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Quote of the Week: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." - Will Durant, American historian (1885-1981)


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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2012-11-08 01:08am
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Location: Fukuoka, Japan
The settlement on the moon of Vega Six Segunda was spartan even back when it had been lived in by its Centauri colonists. Decades of neglect had left the verdant world to its own devices, letting the thick green vines with red leaves grow over the white stone surfaces of prefabricated dwellings in natural camouflage. Brightly colored songbirds nested the myriad of overgrown flower-boxes, twittering warning calls to each other as Londo passed them.
 
“They're beautiful aren't they Ambassador Mollari,” G'Kar said from where he lay in the shade an old tree, idly thumbing through his prayerbook.
 
“The birds? Yes.” Londo agreed, sitting on the edge of what had once been a fountain, “It is just as well that neither of our people took this place. We would have destroyed this beauty for the sake of denying it to each other.”
 
“I imagine this was what my world looked like before your people came. I've seen pictures, of course, but this?” he waved his arms at the omnipresent flowers, “This is how I pray it was. And how I pray it will be.”
 
“G'Kar,” Londo replied in annoyance, “Have we been to cordial for the past several days? Do you feel the need to bring out bad blood for old time's sake?”
 
“Nothing of the sort Mollari. Nothing of the sort.” G'Kar stood up from the ground, brushing the back of his trousers, “I'm just enjoying the irony of your solution to the Vega Six problem. You do realize that I had to propose it as a way of getting “one up” on the Centauri?”
 
“I would be very surprised if you hadn't. There are a number of Centauri politicians doubtlessly waiting for their agents on Narn to inform them of the inevitable Narn outrage,” Londo shrugged, “I had expected it to take more effort to be honest.”
 
“Both our governments are eager to ingratiate themselves with the Imperial government,” G'Kar nodded, “And both of us have our personal reasons for wanting the Imperials to go unharmed.”
 
“I'm just looking out for the interests of my people,” Londo insisted, though the pleased thanks of Mr. Morden repeated in the back of his mind, “I have no ulterior motive.”
 
“Ambassador you brought the Narns with you to fight the Vorlon Empire. Now I haven't been able to figure out how or why you knew it was coming but whatever game you're playing I know that it is you who features chiefly in your interests.” G'Kar held up his gloved finger and tapped the side of his forehead, “I'm not a fool Mollari. But for now, as long as your goals coincide with my own, I'm willing to go along with it.”
 
“Very well,” Londo hissed sarcastically, “By all means live out our conspiracy fantasies. In the meanwhile prepare yourself. Unless I miss my guess that is an Imperial shuttle on the horizon.”
 
The Narn and Centauri soldiers milling about the plaza hopped to attention, standing around the hexagonal cement landing pad at attention in a guard of honor. They may have been on an uncivilized scrap of nowhere but neither race would embarrass themselves in front of the other with less than perfect manners. Admittedly there were a great many more hateful red-eyed stares from the Narn style of politeness than Londo felt were strictly necessary but one could not expect perfection from a Narn.
 
Four ships zoomed into view, the bird-like transport ship of the Inquisitor accompanied by another two fighters that were more boxy and irregular, clearly designed for combat rather than beauty. The ugly boxy fighters took positions around the perimeter as the avian craft hovered above them, a stylized white eagle painted onto the belly of the otherwise crimson and gold craft. It swooped twice around the city before settling into the hexagon.
 
It was overkill, but Londo couldn't blame the Inquisitor for being cautious about meeting the two ambassadors on an unknown world. The man had recently suffered a crippling injury at the hands of the Vorlons, he was likely to be wary of alien interests. Not so wary, however, that he would refuse a meeting, thank the Maker.
 
The mouth of the shuttle yawned wide, extending a long metal plank down to the vine covered ground. A thin layer of smoke and steam billowed out from the opening, pressurized hypoallergenic gasses to ensure no bacteria found their way into the transport. A familiar golden skull poked out from the mists, leading a handful of colorfully dressed companions. Londo sighed at the obvious fear of alien bacterial contamination. There was taking precautions and then there was just being impolite.
 
“We did send them the profile for a sufficent vaccination for this planet yes?” Londo asked G'Kar as the Imperial embassy marched in their direction.
 
“We most certainly did,” G'Kar whispered through a forced smile, “But the Imperials are worse than the Markab when it comes to ensuring the purity of their people. I'm astonished they ever take the infuriating pressure suits off.”
 
“Don't tempt fate,” Londo whispered before saying in a much louder voice, “Inquisitor Hilder my good friend! I had not expected to see you in person so soon after your injury.”
 
“I'm quite well Ambassador Mollari.” The Inquisitor's metallic voice reverberated. He raised an ivory finger capped with a gold talon and tapped it on the side of his helmet, “An arm can be replaced so long as the mind is whole.”
 
A busty redhead wearing a high necked leather long-coat with stylized grinning skulls for buttons snorted and rolled her eyes. Her mouth and nose were covered by a rebreather “Daul could you possibly be more pretentious?”
 
G'Kar's reptilian inner eyelid slid over his red eyes, reflexively cleaning them as he sniffed the air, “Do I know you?”
 
“You most certainly do Ambassador. My apprentice is miss Susan Ivanova, formerly of Babylon 5,” Londo gagged in surprise, his fangs flexing against his lips.
 
“I had been led to believe the commander died in the attack,” Londo hedged uneasily around the obvious question. Outright asking if the commander had defected seemed ill advised, “They officially listed you as missing in action.”
 
“We are u...unable to c...communicate with real-space while we are in transit,” The Inquisitor's diminutive aid replied, “W...we could not correct such an error.”
 
Susan looked as though she very much would have liked to say something but a stern look passed between her and the skull-faced telepath. Londo got the distinct impression that a conversation was passing between the two of them. Susan stared daggers at the mask for a moment then gritted her teeth as she hissed, “You unbelievable son of a bitch. This is why you brought me here?”
 
Londo winced at her astringent acrimony. The scrupulously professional Commander was quivering with rage as the Inquisitor calmly rejoined, “Truth does not go away with time.”
 
“And what truth is that Inquisitor?” G'Kar sighed in exasperation.
 
If looks could kill the Inquisitor would have been a small pile of ashes upon the ground. Another round of meaningful looks passed between the Inquisitor and the buxom redhead before Commander Ivanova pulled off her mask and spoke in a tone drizzled with a thick layer of sarcasm, “I've been generously accepted by the Inquisitor as his apprentice.”
 
G'Kar and Londo shared a look of confusion that was not missed by the Inquisitor, “I found it unacceptable for her psychic talents to go to waste and dangerous for them to go untrained. Certianly not for a psychic with such impressive psychic potential.”
 
“What!” Squawked Londo in horror. Great Maker, he'd spent two years around a psychic without ever having the vaguest hint of it. The possible fallout was horrifying. How many of his secrets did she know? How many other Earth Alliance officers were secret telepaths? He'd grown accustomed to the Earther's telepathic apartheid but how much of his security measures were in error?
 
G'Kar seemed more intrigued that horrified, “Commander Ivanova is this true?”
 
“Yes,” The Commander replied with a level of vulnerability Londo had rarely heard from the Russian. It was like listening to a small child admit to a mistake they'd long hoped forgotten, “I'm a telepath, like my mother before me.”
 
“How can this be?” G'Kar all but whispered, putting his gloved hand upon Susan's arm in a gesture of solidarity, “I thought that all members of the Earthforce were tested?”
 
“I wasn't strong,” Susan admitted, “Barely a P-1, it didn't take much for them to overlook me.”
 
“The talents of the Psi-corps are astonishingly limited,” The Inquisitor interjected, his reverberating voice abounding with professional pique, “Having examined a half dozen men and women trained by them it's become clear to me they understand almost nothing of warp-craft. To allow a mind so readily prepared for the biomantic and pyromantic arts to go by the wayside for a lack of telepathic finesse is utter madness. Telepathy is only one of a million skills. They struggle to understand telekinesis and fancy themselves the masters of sorcery. Bah!”
 
“Not everyone can bend the forces of nature about their finger Hildy,” Replied an irritated woman. Unclad except for a sheer white sheet, her ebon skin glowed with the dull golden glow of active astropathy from an intricate patchwork of runes and circuitry, “And even those who can tend to lack your unique insights into the subject. The sisters of silence aren't especially fond of people researching the subject if memory serves.”
 
“Captain Sáclair I presume?” Londo bowed deferentially. He really did like the bombastic letch, the time would not come soon enough that they would meet in person, “Would it be possible for us to get our crewmen back? My assistant in particular has been greatly missed. Don't tell him though, a competent assistant who realizes his necessity soon becomes unbearable.”
 
“But of course,” The woman remarked offhandedly as she locked arms with Londo and marched him towards the ship, “Your men are already being transported back to your ships. And unless I miss my – Ah yes! Here comes young Mr. Cotto.”
 
Londo's portly assistant waddled his way out of the Imperial transport with the aid of a large and particularly ugly Narn, a greenish tint of airsickness about him. The astropathic servitor leaned in closely and whispered conspiratorially, “Between the two of us I like the lad but he's a bit queasy around the bends. I wouldn't put him at the helm of anything larger than a ground car.”
 
“His continuing survival is something of a mystery, yes,” Londo agreed before shouting to his assistant, “Vir! That's quite enough stalling. Your little vacation is over. It is time to work.”
 
“Vacation?” His assistant rolled shifted his eyes back towards the transport as though her were considering the merits of going back to the Endless Bounty and never returning, but common sense overruled his fear of the Ambassador. Vir exhaustedly plodded forward, distinctly the worse for ware. His coat, still the same one he'd left the babylon station wearing, had been hastily sewn together after being slit and his shirt was flecked with a mix of soot and something that resembled blood. “I think I'm done with vacations. Forever.”
 
“Just as well, you have none left to use,” Londo growled irritatedly, grinning and patting his assistant on the back jovially, “I am glad to see you well and whole Vir. To my great surprise I do in truth enjoy your company,” he lowered his voice, “And you will be wanted on the home-world soon.”
 
“Good,” Vir determinedly agreed, “Yes that sounds very good.”
 
“Th... this is actually a very n...nice planet,” commented the hunch-backed auto-savant Jak as he poked at the flora with a small sliver box, a scanner of some sort, “Lush and fertile. Why is it uninhabited?”
 
“History and luck,” G'Kar waved at the surrounding settlement, “This was formerly an outspost when the Centauri slavers were transporting my people. We drove them out, then abandoned it because of where it fell along our supply chains.”
 
“We drew you to it so that you would make such a foolish over-expansion,” Londo corrected, “But even the Narn occasionally make a tactically sound decision.”
 
“Ah,” The Inquisitor sighed, “You do not want to risk offering us shelter and having the Vorlons declare war upon you. Clever.”
 
“Partially,” G'Kar admitted, pulling a data-pad from his satchel and handing it to the Inquisitor, “But we've expanded our goals since then.”
 
“What is this?” The Inquisitor skimmed the contents of the data-pad before handing them off to Commander Ivanova.
 
The Commander's jaw dropped, “They're settling rights. Unconditional settling rights from both the Centauri and Narn governments to this solar system,” Susan looked at the Narn and Centauri Ambassador's in utter bafflement, “You're just giving them a solar system without asking for anything in return?”
 
“Of course he isn't,” Sáclair's Avatar laughed, “This scrap of space is part of the demilitarized zone between their peoples isn't it? They want to use us as a barrier to cut off both sides from using this place as a military staging point. A wall between two predators.”
 
“Among other benefits,” Londo replied, “There's nothing to be lost in turning what was previously a dead world into an new economic trading partner.”
 
“Very well then,” The Inquisitor nodded once, “If Jak finds nothing wrong with your contract I will graciously accept. The Belzafesters have been going stir crazy onboard the Bounty anyway.”
 
“They were ill-suited spacers to begin with. I'll start moving them into the settlement while you finish up down here,” Sáclair sighed freezing and leaning to the left, the woman's body going limp and falling to the ground in suddenly suspended animation. The servitor crumpled to the ground like a limp marionette.
 
“I hate when he does that,” Londo shuddered as he looked into the suddenly dead and glassy eyes of what had only moments ago been a living and breathing woman, “It's just unnatural.”
 
“I suspect that's why he doesn't warn us,” Sighed the Inquisitor, “He's up there on his throne giggling about our facial expressions, I just know it,” he shook his golden skull, apparently embarrassed to have spoken out of turn, “You've shown me a great deal of faith, now I shall return it in kind. I will accept a Narn and Centauri into my service to serve as the representatives of your people in the Empire. Mr. Cotto has already -”
 
“Vir!” Londo hissed, “What have you done?”
 
“I didn't know that – I mean – I er, what?” His assistant sputtered nervously, “He just told me I was the Ambassador, I didn't say anything.”
 
“I will accept no others and I will not hear a word of argument against it,” The Inquisitor nodded, “Mr. Cotto has agreed to enter my retinue. A great honor that puts him in the highest court of the Empire.”
 
“Mr. Cotto has a role in government. My government. The Centauri government,” Londo corrected the Imperial, “One that requires he be with me at all times. He cannot exactly aid the embassy if he isn't around the Ambassador.”
 
“Ambassador, I am offering a permanent Centauri mission on this planet but I will accept no other diplomat than Mr. Cotto,” Inquisitor Hilder repeated firmly, “I trust him, well him and you. But we both know you have no desire to leave Babylon Five.”
 
“Very well then,” Londo sighed in grudging acquiescence, “I accept your offer.”
 
“What – but he – huh?” Vir repeated in utter bafflement, “Me?”
 
“Yes, you're an Ambassador to the Empire now, don't let it go to your head,” Londo patted his baffled aide on the back, “You look positively green Vir you should sit down.”
 
“What – oh yeah, sitting,” His horrified aide replied, plopping down on the ground in confusion, “Sitting is good.”
 
“I have no specific request for the Narn Ambassador,” The Inquisitor admitted to G'Kar, “Just someone who isn't prone to confrontation.”
 
“I have several in mind,” G'Kar admitted, “But we have another matter to discuss that is more important. I received troubling news as we were in transit.”
 
“Yes,” Londo admitted, “The Non-Aligned worlds are comitted to a peace keeping operation in the Shi'lassen Triumvirate in co-operation with the Earth Alliance, Narn Empire and Centauri Republic. As a member race of the Non-Aligned worlds you are expected to aid in peacekeeping effort.”
 
“The Empire does not go to war on the whims of other nations,” The Inquisitor whispered in a voice of deadly calm, the wisps of balefire flickering around him blazing white-hot.
 
“I think you'll want to,” G'Kar replied, “Our old friends have decided to show themselves. An army of monsters rallying behind the banner of one they only call Faust.”
 
The ground beneath the Inquisitor cracked as he mashed his long range communicator and outright bellowed, “Sáclair! Mobilize the Lionhearts. We go to war!”

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2012-11-08 01:09am
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Delenn walked to the center of the council chambers, no longer Satai. Stripped of rank but not honor, Delenn wore her ambassadorial uniform like a suit of armor. Striding into the center of the circle with great pride in her heart, she stood in the pale blue light at the center of the circle and spoke, “For twenty cycles I stood beside you as one of the nine. I called many of you friends. And now you call me outcast. You know me. You know I believe in the task that is before us, the great war that is coming. I have not turned my back on you.”
 
Delenn turned from grey robed hood to grey robed hood, trying to catch a stray eye or a hint of emotion. There was none to be found, “ I'm trying to help. I have sacrificed all that I had, all that I am. We can no longer allow ourselves to be separated by names and borders. Our two sides must unite or be destroyed. Do not make my sacrifice a vain one.”
 
The Minbari Ambassador closed her eyes in silent prayer that they'd listen, “Allow me to finish what I have started. In the name of our friendship and the future of our people let me remain on Babylon 5.”
 
“I'm more than happy to have you returned to remain with the humans,” replied a snide and hateful voice.
 
“You are the one who was chosen to replace me?” Delenn turned to face the robed man, “I do not know you.”
 
“I believe you do,” The man pulled back his cowl, revealing an altogether too familiar face.
 
“Neroon?” Delenn asked, flabbergasted at the choice. She turned to the council, pleading with them. “I do not understand! He is warrior caste from the Star Rider's clan.”
 
She looked from face to face as each hood turned from her, shying away from her in guilt. None dared meet her eye, “What are you doing? When Valen called the nine together he chose three from the worker caste, three from the religious caste, and three from the warrior caste. My replacement should have been from the religious caste.”
 
Delenn realized she was shouting and did not care, “Four from the warrior caste gives them unprecedented power.”
 
“And why not?” Neroon rejoined, his face bathed shadow and hatred, “It was the warrior caste who died in the war against the Earthers. Warrior caste who have defended our worlds for centuries while the council floated among the stars. Isolated from it's own people.”
 
“This is wrong,” Delenn's voice cracked with fury.
 
“Is it,” Neroon replied with terrifying calm, “You say prophecy tells us a great war is coming. Should not the warrior caste lead against it.”
 
“The Warrior caste cannot be allowed to set policy.” Such a road led to war and destruction. History had proven that well enough.
 
“Have you done any better,” Neroon eyed Delenn with dismissive disgust, “When I was inducted into this circle I was finally told the reason we were ordered to surrender. I didn't know whither to laugh or weep,” he shook with visible anger, “If we had been told the truth then we never would have surrendered.”
 
“You do not understand,” Delenn pleaded with Neroon to listen, to see the wisdom of her words.
 
“I see perfectly,” He dismissed her entirely, “That you stand before me as a creature I do not recognize. One put in two worlds, you are an affront to the purity of our race. And your assertion that you are fulfilling prophecy is presumption of the highest order.”
 
He rose his fingers in admission as his words rung in her ears, echoing the hateful words of Ambassador Hilder from so long ago, “And yet it is true that you are now the perfect liaison between us and the Earthers. You have no home with either of us. So please, act out your fantasy. Be our go-between. Return to what little of babylon five remains, and stay there.”
 
The room went to darkness, leaving Delenn alone in the pale blue light. She stood there alone as the council members walked away from her back to their quarters. Neroon will have moved into her quarters by then, boxing what belongings were hers and sending them to Lenneir. Her lip curled at the thought of that bull-headed cretin in her quarters. It wasn't an especially wise thought, but it was an honest one.
 
She nursed thoughts of unpleasant things that Neroon deserved before reason returned and she let go of her hatred. Neroon was not to blame for her situation, she was. She knew that ignoring the council would have consequences, but she had chosen to do it anyway. This was her choice, her path. She would walk it.
 
She walked from the Chamber of the Grey, walking the familiar path down to a garden in one of the public areas, her set meeting place for Lenneir. It was a tiny little bit of green space, barely eight feet by ten feet wide, but Valen had insisted that there be a bit of green space around for troubled minds to find peace. She sat on a narrow bit of flat stone and stared at an ancient tree. Its meticulously clipped and shaped branches curved into a beautiful sculpture of a bird in flight, winking and mischievously perking its beak.
 
A firm hand rested on her shoulder as a calm voice spoke in pleasant tones, “Hello old friend. We have a great deal to do.”

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2012-11-08 01:10am
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Location: Fukuoka, Japan
The galactic rim was a place full of wonder and mystery beyond man's comprehension. Even the most minor of discoveries beyond the rim were of such cosmic importance that the commander of an Explorer ship lived in perpetual intrigue. Each jump led to a new place never before viewed by human eyes, virgin territory for scientific exploration or economic exploitation. Explorer ships were tasked with the duty of discovering new space and building new jump gates, spending years or even decades at the edge of the unknown.
 
Captain Jack Maynard took command of the EAS Cortez in 2254 and, god willing, would captain it untill the day he died. Like its namesake, the Cortez was destined to break new ground and conquer the unknown. Admittedly the unknown's Jack favored were scientific rather than sapient. It was just as well, explorer ships were heavy on mass but notably lacking in weapons. If their mission required heavier armaments than a handful of Starfuries, they were in for a nasty surprise.
 
Not that their Starfuries were anything but the best of the best, Zeta Squadron had originally been intended as a gift to Babylon 5. In light of the rather startling redirect from repairing the Euphrates Sector Jump Gates to the edge of Drazi space they had understandably been transferred to his command. It had taken some effort to get Ray Gallus and his men into suitable accommodations. They had, after all, only been planning on just transporting them to Babylon Five. However with a little gumption and a bit of creative re-arranging of the current cargo situation they'd managed to get everyone living in reasonable comfort.
 
As per the President's orders the EAS Cortez was scouring the sector where the Imperials had first shown up for signs of their place of origin. It was no mean feat considering that the Imperials were reportedly equally ignorant of local stellar geography, but a thrilling one for Jack, “I cannot possibly imagine what their home planet looks like. Can you?”
 
Commander Steven Jonas, a slight man with a distinct overbite and a pronounced lisp, looked up from the chess board balanced on the small mess hall table. His hand, paused in movement above a white rook, did not so much as shake as he considered his options, “The Imperials you mean?”
 
“Who else?” Jack chuckled in a deep baritone, “Every time we jump we're getting closer to them, I can taste it.”
 
“I suspect it looks a great deal like their paintings of it. You've seen the history they gave us,” The Commander smiled and moved his bishop, taking Jack's knight before tapping the clock, “Massive cities, lots of people in robes, and a whole mess of skulls.”
 
“We know what the idealized image of how they want to represent themselves looks Steve. They're all religiously idealized images of their society. Praying to the great gods and paragons to save them from evil,” Jack convivially jibed as he pushed his pawn forward in an effort to force the bishop to retreat, “But that isn't how their whole society looks like any more than a painting from the wall of a church shows all of the human colonies.”
 
“You notice how all of their saints are carrying guns?” Commander Jonas moved his knight behind Jack's pawn, taking a bishop and forcing him to block with his queen, “Including their emperor? I would have paid way more attention in confirmation class if Jesus had been packing a PPG.”
 
“Even the Catholic church tends to show angels with swords and spears. I think they just happen to have a religion founded more recently than the bronze age. If they'd crucified Jesus in the Cold War we'd be painting Angels in green fatigues with M-14s,” Jack moved out of check and took a rook that strayed too close to his king, “I'm just looking forward to making first contact with their planet.”
 
“Sir we've jumped a hundred times so far without doing more than a passive scan of the sector. The techs aren't loving that. You know they consider a trip a failure without having at least spent a day collecting samples,” With a little flourish Commander Jonas took Jack's pawn off the table, moving his queen into position with a satisfied flourish, “They're going a bit stir crazy.”
 
“I understand their frustrations,” Jack sighed and moved his king, knowing full well the next move would be checkmate, “But orders are orders. Clark wants the Empire found as soon as possible, proper cartography be damned. We're lucky he hasn't got all the Explorer ships out here doing the same thing.”
 
“It's just that we need to have them doing something other than just sitting around on their hands. I've been talking with some of the pilots and they want to organize a basketball tournament,” Jonas moved his knight again, checkmating Jack's king with great satisfaction.
 
“Basketball?” Jack repeated.
 
“Yes sir, it's a sport that none of the men onboard are spectacularly skilled at and it doesn't require any specialized gear other than the ball,” The commander pointed above his head in the general direction of the cargo bay, “And we have about a hundred of them that were destined for Babylon Five that are just eating a hole in our cargo bay at the moment.”
 
“Alright Steven, if you can get the players it sounds fine to me,” Jack started to speak when his communications badge chirruped loudly. He tapped it and held it up to his mouth, “Captain Maynard speaking.”
 
“Captain we need you on the bridge,” the comms officer cheerily replied, “There's a ship on the other side of the planet that just popped out of nowhere. The radiation profile conforms with what we know about the Imperial method of travel. And sir... it's the biggest ship I've ever seen. Just massive. The sensors actually missed it for a couple hours because they were glitching out every time they tried to focus on it.”
 
“Send them the standard greeting package with an additional message of greeting in high gothic on microwave transmission,” Jack stood up from the table and started walking towards the main corridor of the ship, “I'll be there in five.”
 
He deactivated his link and held out his hand. Steven looked at it in annoyance, “We don't know it's them yet.”
 
“Shut up and pay up Steven,” Jack smiled, “I won.”
 
His second in command reluctantly shoved five credits into Jack's hand as the two of them sprinted in the direction of the Command deck. The Explorer ship was massive, as large as an O'Neill class station. There was a good quarter mile of ship between them and the command deck not to mention two flights of stairs.
 
“The next one of these gets an elevator,” huffed Steven as they rounded a corner and started ascending the ladder to deck 12, “And a transport tube.”
 
“Take it up with the Senate,” wheezed Jack, “I'm totally in favor of it.”
 
Steven opened his mouth to give a sarcastic reply but fell flat on his face as the floor beneath him shoot with a sudden burst of kinetic impact. He yelped in pain as his knees met deck plates, “Jesus!”
 
Grabbing onto the ship's cargo webbing for support Jack screamed into his link, “What the hell was that?”
 
“Sir,” replied the horrified voice of the comms officer, “They just fired on us after ordering us to surrender. Those were torpedo impacts.”
 
“Damage report!” The commander rubbed the blood from his nose as he spoke into his own link, reaching over to the wall and breaking the glass on the emergency condition alarm hanging from the wall. The hall lights switched from white to red, blaring klaxons warning the crew to get to safety.
 
“Sir none of the torpedoes have exploded, they bored into the side of the ship then stopped. No major damage to the ship,” the floor bucked again, struts shaking from the force of another impact, “Belay that. Our engines are down, I repeat our engines and docking bay are down. We've taken a direct hit from a laser battery of some sort. Critical damage across the board.”
 
“Why would they fire munitions that don't explode when they already have effective weapons?” Jack chewed his lip, “There's no reason for that – unless,” Jack swore, “Ensign. I need you to run a life signs detector on those torpedoes.”
 
“Sir why would I?” She paused again before replying, “Yes sir, twenty confirmed life-signs.”
 
“Just what I need,” Jack double-tapped his communications chip, “This is a general order to all crew-members of the Cortez. Prepare to repel boarders.”
 
The crew rushed into action, scientists and non-combat personnel heading for the bridge as GROPOS in hastily fastened combat armor marched in the direction of the boarders. Having gone so long without actually being in combat some of them were running down the hallways half-naked and carrying plasma rifles. A private he vaguely recognized as being named Daniels ran into combat wearing nothing more than his flak armor and a pink set of boxer shorts.
 
“We need to get to the weapons lockers sir,” Steven pulled out his side arm as he listened to the distant sound of booming gunfire echoing through the halls in a cacophony of human suffering, “Make sure that they don't fall into enemy hands.”
 
“Of course,” Jack said before correcting himself, “No, we need to get to the secondary bridge and get it into lockdown. Those munitions won't help us if they can shut down life support.”
 
“You think they know about that sir?” Commander Jonas asked, motioning for three GROPOS in full combat armor to follow them.
 
“They took our our engines and flight deck faster than it took us to even realize we were in the same system. We have to assume they have scans of our ship,” Jack slid back down the ladder, landing on his feet with a loud thump of combat boots on steel. This was not how first contact with the Empire was supposed to go.
 
They dropped three decks before they got their first sight of the boarders. They saw only the merest glimpse of retreating white pauldron bearing a black cross through the smoke, but it was enough to scare Jack senseless. Five men lay butchered in the hall, gored to death. One man, just barely on the edge of life, still twitched where he'd been pinned to the wall with a blade as long as Jack's leg set to a pommel thicker than a soda can. As the man coughed his death rattle he spat up thick globules of blood onto finger marks the size of cucumbers where a massive hand had ripped a pressure door from its hinges.
 
A flicker of movement caught Jack's eye and he fell to the ground, narrowly avoiding a gout of flame. “Jesus Christ!” Jack swore, crossing himself in horror before gritting his teeth and picking up a discarded phased-plasma rifle from the recent dead, “Don't just stand there! Kill the mother-fragger!”
 
Shrugging off the discharges of phased-plasma the massive black armored figure activated the trigger on the sword in his left hand, activating the saw tooth blades as he swung at the gut of the nearest GROPO, bursting him like a ripe melon. In a frenzy of black armor and swirling robes he spun around and roasted a second GROPO with his flamethrower, discarding it as it's fuel ran out, “Für deus rex imperator! Für Terra!”
 
The third GROPO planted in armored figures optics and fired, bursting the electronics and turning the grim mask into molted slag. With a scream of pain the man tore the helmet from his head and smashed it into the face of the remaining GROPO, crushing it.
 
Stephen lashed out with his combat knife, aiming for the joints of the man's armor but fell to the ground with a pained yelp as the man karate chopped him across the leg. It broke with thunderous a wet pop, dropping to the ground in pain.
 
Jack dropped his gun in apparent surrender, holding his hands behind his head. The armored man approached Jack, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and examining his rank pins in apparent satisfaction before holstering his sword. Apparently the Captain was important enough not to just murder him. He spoke in thunderous basso, “Du es tu Gefangener.”
 
Jack looked at the dead men piled around him and pulled the plasma grenade from where he'd concealed it behind his head and smashed it into the open mouth of the armored man, “Frag you!”
 
The astonished man's head exploded into a bloody mess along with Jack's arm as the grenade burst with enough force to crack a bulkhead. Jack screamed in pain as he landed in a heap on the ground, clutching his bloody stump of an arm. As he scrambled to stem the flow of blood from his body he looked up and into the face of the grim reaper himself.
 
An armored figure, even more massive than the first, waded in through the corpses, the intricate patterns of his baroque design patterned after the skull and bones of a human being. He knelt over the headless corpse of his compatriot, saying words of prayer as he pressed down on the other man's breastplate. The Reaper examined the wounds before turning his glowing red eyes upon Jack.
 
Skeletal fingers grabbed hold of him and lifted him to eye level as the Reaper pulled a flamethrower pistol from his holster and held it up to Jack's stump. The Reaper fired, cauterizing the wound and tossing him back to the floor before speaking in heavily accented Interlac, “You do not die so easy. The Emperor has a use for you.”


A/N : There are no doubt errors in this. Please feel free to point them out to me. As always reviews are welcome. A special thanks to Nuts! on Spacebattles for working as my beta reader as always. :D

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2012-11-08 10:06am
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is a laughing fool.
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I like it that you made Abbas as a spark. :) Great read so far. :)



ASVS('97)/SDN('03)

"Peppercorn Tomatoes slathered in broken guacamole sauce. Put it in the microwave and press puree. 5 seconds in the dumpster and it is ready to be cooked in the freezer at -350 degrees for twenty minutes. Apply pressure in various hamster spots and scream like a psychotic banshee." My reply when asked what was on my mind.

"Whilst human alchemists refer to the combustion triangle, some of their orcish counterparts see it as more of a hexagon: heat, fuel, air, laughter, screaming, fun." - Dawn of the Dragons

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2012-11-10 09:46pm
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Oh Crap!

There's a portal between the verses - and a chapter sent a battle barge.


This does not bode well!

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2012-11-29 10:13am
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Huh... Just checking word counts of books and realized TCMBB is officially longer than the first wheel of time book. Hell, it's about 3/4 the size of the entire Lord of the Rings series and WILL be longer than they are within the year.

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2012-12-13 03:34pm
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Todeswind wrote:
Huh... Just checking word counts of books and realized TCMBB is officially longer than the first wheel of time book. Hell, it's about 3/4 the size of the entire Lord of the Rings series and WILL be longer than they are within the year.


Achievement Unlocked: Doorstopper (15 points)



Given the respective degrees of vulnerability to mental and physical force, annoying the powers of chaos to the point where they try openly to kill them all rather than subvert them is probably a sound survival strategy under the circumstances. -Eleventh Century Remnant

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-01-14 12:03am
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Kerrigan was as happy as a child in a sweet shop. The ever-increasing pile of machinery in her workshop had only become more wondrous to her as the science of their construction was made manifest. She pored over the technical manuals with voracious fascination, curious at the simultaneous brilliance and ignorance of the Earth Alliance.

The humans of the Alliance were mechanical savants, to be sure, but their lack of empathy with the spirits of the machine left their creations wanting. Already Kerrigan had improved the function of her own quarters with a ritual to appease the machine spirit of her door. The application of ritually spiced oils and a simple data-angel into the near-mind of the door had not only boosted performance but had also convinced the machine spirit to purge all entry codes but her own. Station security would have to knock prior to entry, as was only proper.

She hadn't intended to move into the diplomatic quarters offered to her, but the shuttle was ill-suited for long term habitation, especially now that she was no longer living by herself. Her servants had finally been given a clean bill of health, so it was for their sake more than hers that she had moved her effects out of her shuttle and into a spacious apartment in Green sector.

It was not without its own charm.

Kerrigan picked at a bowl of chocolate covered fruit given to her by General Hague, some sort of citrus native to the Alliance home-world, eagerly chewing on the tangy rind as she examined the device in her mechandrite. It was a chip no larger than her thumb, a simple communication device no more rare or exciting than the average survey auspex in the Imperium. However, to Kerrigan it was a thing of beauty.

It meant an end to her exile. It was not an STC, but its importance was so great that it would not matter.

A real-time subspace transmitter. Throne, but if she could even get one of these back to the Imperium, it might well change the tide of history forever. Stable interplanetary communication that did not rely on the warp was little more than wishful thinking and fiction in the Imperium, meaning that a transmission could arrive days or even centuries later than its sender intended. Even more bizarrely, messages at times arrived prior to their submission, resulting in several baffling situations where ships responded to their own distress calls.

The Alliance communicated between their home-world and their outlying colonies in real-time, and Kerrigan knew how they did it and understood how to construct a hyperspace engine. The Adeptus Mechanicus no longer was beholden to the Warp.

Not that she could do anything with this wealth of knowledge, as without a Warp-capable ship and a Navigator to course correct she had no route back to the Imperium. There was no hyperspace gate network to make use of in the Imperium that she knew of. She had, of course, constructed a distress beacon to summon any Adeptus Mechanicus ships that should happen to be passing, but she doubted they would ever come.

The key to the Imperium’s return to glory sat between her fingers, and she could do nothing more than sit and wait. In spite of this it was hard to feel frustrated, not with so much to be learned. She busied herself with learning the workings of the Alliance machines and with training her apprentices in the proper ways of the Machine God. Their aptitude for the science vastly outstripped their humility for the greatness of the Omnissah's works, but she supposed that humbleness only came with age.

Abbas certainly had little to be humble about. Whatever that boy might have done on the Endless Bounty would have been a shameful waste of his talents. She'd never seen someone take to mathematics and engineering as quickly as he did, understanding the materials with a nearly instinctive fervor. He might well be qualified for the rank of Magos in a matter of decades rather than centuries.

“Ma’am,” the craggly voice of her auto-savant Regulus interjected, “I believe you have an appointment in the med-bay.”

Kerrigan looked to her chronometer and blinked in surprise, yelping in shock, “Throne, is it time already?”

She gingerly placed the subspace transmitter onto her desk and shimmied out of her oil-stained robes, handing them over to Gerra as she walked into the the wide metal tub they'd replaced her bed with. Kerrigan had no need of a bed, as she didn’t sleep. Gertrude came over with a stiff brush and a bucket of perfumed rose-oil, along with another one of soapy water.

The two maids were slow in scrubbing her with the rose oils and rinsing her with the water but she was not churlish enough to complain. It had only been a week since the station's Medicus, Dr. Franklin, had released them from physical therapy and allowed them to go back to work but they hadn't heard a word of her protests that they ought to be taking it easy.

So far as her servants were concerned, she was an absolute mess without their help, and they outright refused to let her get a word in edgewise when she'd tried to give them time off. All of them but the young Galen, at least, who'd been more than eager to spend time with Abbas and Orr. The young scamp had adopted her apprentices as surrogate older brothers.

She closed her eyes and shut off her optics, enjoying the sensation of the soft bristles against her flesh and within the hard-to-reach places in her augmentics. It was easy to forget just how much grit pooled at the joints of those things, until it was scrubbed away and her mechanical limbs no longer felt like they were moving through molasses.

Gerra pulled out a clean robe of soft red cotton from Kerrigan's trunk and went about the exhaustive business of threading the augmentic tentacles and servo-connections into their proper openings. The two women chatted in Low Gothic, nattering on about how much of a waste it was that Kerrigan had no intention of ever marrying and how much prettier the agumentics would look if Kerrigan would paint them bright colors. She placidly let the nonsensical discussions wash over her as the women dressed her and tied her hair into a tight bun, tying it off with a red ribbon and a comb marked with the cog of the Omnissiah.

She hugged her maids tight to her body with her arms and mechandrites, staring into their scarred faces. Kerrigan's augmentic voice choked into a sob as she said, “Omnissah, but I missed you.”

Her servants hugged her back tightly before pulling away and bowing, giving Kerrigan a moment to compose herself. The Magos cleared her throat, embarrassed for the display, and nodded to Bizak, “Shall we go then?”

“Yes Magos,” Bizak smiled and waved to the door with his augmentic fingers. They were the work of Dr. Franklin rather than proper Imperial augmentics, but she had to confess that the man's skill with prosthetic limbs was more than apt. She'd consecrated the augmentics just to be sure that there would be no issue and found them to be sufficient.

Kerrigan walked out the door and into the hall of green sector, carrying a heavy leather bag over her shoulder and a small satchel of surgical tools on her belt. Today would be a very special day. Abbas had finally passed his first rite of ascension and earned the rank of Adept. Certain ceremonies consequently had to be observed, as well as certain surgeries.

It was a short walk to the med-bay; Dr. Franklin's surgery had intentionally been placed where it was convenient for the ambassadors to reach it in Blue 2. Before she knew it Kerrigan was at the doctor's door, walking into the relative bustle of the best-equipped medical center on the station.

“Magos Kerrigan,” Dr. Franklin greeted her coolly, his voice disapproving but not unprofessional. “It's been a while. How are my patients doing? Resting well, I hope.”

“They seem to be recovering remarkably well, yes.” The Alliance medicus always managed to make her feel horribly guilty for some reason. Every time she spoke with him, she had flashbacks of being caught taking sweets from the pantry as a child. “They take their medicines every four hours on the hour.”

“Good, now we just need to clear up the matter of you wanting to perform a secret surgical procedure upon a minor without his parent or guardian’s consent in my surgery without supervision by any doctor and we'll just be dandy,” The doctor said in a tone of deadpan seriousness.

“I am his appointed guardian, and it is a necessary part of his transition into the priesthood,” Kerrigan explained politely, “And it is for the adepts of the Machine God and their eyes alone.”

“Then you're going to have to find someplace else to perform it. I have medical standards in my surgery, one of the most prominent of which is that unlicensed surgeons don't perform unexplained procedures without observation.” The medicus crossed his arms and scowled up into Kerrigan's face.

“I have no need for an observer and assure you that I am more than qualified for this procedure,” Kerrigan growled in irritation, “I will not submit to this sort of insult.”

“Magos?” The young voice of Abbas spoke from where he poked his head out from the waiting room, “Why can't he observe?”

Kerrigan sighed silently. “Child, you know perfectly well why. There are some secrets that are not for those who do not worship the Omnissiah,” Kerrigan replied in irritation as she shoved her rucksack into Bizak's arm. The servant let out a slight 'oof' of surprise at its weight.

“But Magos,” Abbas interjected as he pointed to Bizak's hand, “Surely he already knows more than we're going to show him in the ritual. He's already implanting people with augmentics without first appeasing the machine spirits. Wouldn't it be better for him to understand the proper ritual, so that he could appease the Omnissiah when he does it next time?”

It was sound reasoning. She couldn't feasibly execute Dr. Franklin and all the other Alliance citizens for techno-heresy by herself. Converting him to at least try to appease the machine spirits he was giving life to would be the next best thing. After all, it was just the installation of augmentics rather than their fabrication. She poked her head into the sterile surgery cubicle. “I suppose it is a lesser ritual. Is Orr in there with you?”

“Yes, ma’am,” replied the voice of her other apprentice, “And I brought what you asked me to bring.”

“Good,” Kerrigan sighed, “Dr. Franklin, I will ask you to remain silent for the ritual if you are going to insist upon being present.”

The doctor nodded slightly. “I'll try.”

“Very well,” Kerrigan sighed. It was just one more minor heresy to add to the pile they'd accumulated so far. Just one more minor concession to take them further from orthodoxy. She did what she could because she must; there were no other options.

Kerrigan gestured to the table and Abbas stripped off his robe and climbed on it, his cotton small-clothes just barely preserving modesty. Orr waved the incense censer above her other apprentice, chanting the ritual of organized purity, much to Dr. Franklin's consternation. The Alliance medicus eyed every errant flake of incense as though they were a personal affront to his profession.

Ignoring the man's irritation, Kerrigan began to pray in binary, the harsh grating truths of the machine, “Omnissiah I stand before you today with a new child of the machines. Abbas Sáclair has come to the machine to find its order and wonder. May you find Abbas and bring him into the freedom of knowledge.”

Kerrigan's mechandrites whipped down and held Abbas' arms and legs in place as she pulled a sterile knife out from her satchel. Dr. Franklin shouted in horror nearly as loud as her apprentice as she cut into Abbas' spine without any anesthesia. The young Sáclair thrashed about in pain, cleansing himself of any pretense.

She asked him in the High Gothic of the Damascan nobility, “Do you wish to be a priest of the Omnissah?”

“Magos, what are you doing?” Abbas sobbed in pain and confusion.

She twisted the knife in his back. “Do you still wish to be a priest of the Omnissiah?”

“Yes!” Abbas screamed. The doctor tried to shove himself between Abbas and Kerrigan but she tossed him to the side of the room with her mechandrites.

“Do you still wish to be a priest, knowing the pain that it will bring, the suffering that you will face to earn knowledge?” Kerrigan said impassively as she sliced into his back, exposing the ribs and shoving the meat aside with her fingers.

“YES!” Abbas howled in agony. Orr, who understood as little Damascan High Gothic as Dr. Franklin did, was cowering in the corner, his prayers to the machine long forgotten. He made the symbol of the Aquilla and whispered words of warding. She would have to remember to punish him for that.

“Why?” Kerrigan scraped back the meat from his spine and started to drill into the bones, taking care not to nick the nerves. It wasn't especially easy to do with Abbas convulsing in agony and Dr.Franklin trying to attack her with a stool. The Alliance medicus was nothing if not persistent.

“BECAUSE I'M A BASTARD,” Abbas screamed, “AND I HAVE NOWHERE ELSE TO GO! I CAN'T GO BACK TO BEING NOTHING!”

“Good answer,” Kerrigan replied in English as she pulled the augmenter interface out from her bag and lined its spikes up to the holes that she’d drilled in Abbas' spine, “Try not to pass out.”

She shoved down hard, driving the spikes into the nerve clusters on Abbas' spine. The boy screamed so loud that his voice seemed to whittle down to faint wisps of agony, but he did not pass out. Kerrigan sprayed a healing foam into the wound and pulled the flesh shut around the three protruding sockets. She held the skin in place for a count of ten, allowing the foam to form a suture, then released it and rounded on the stool-brandishing doctor as he tried to shove his way past Bizack.

“Orr, leave.”

Her other apprentice did not have to be told twice. He bolted out the door and ran to Omissah alone knew where. She would track him down later. “Medicus Franklin, what in the name of all that is good and holy do you think you are doing? I could have paralyzed the boy if something went even slightly wrong.”

“Me? What am I doing?” The doctor waved at the still sobbing child in horror, “You just flayed a twelve year old!”

“It was a necessary ritual. I had to test his conviction.” Kerrigan asserted, “Pain is an important part of it.”

“Test his conviction? The kid hasn't hit puberty yet.” The Doctor virtually seethed with anger, “I've had about it up to here with you claiming cruelty as a cultural maxim. You can latch onto your tradition and your religion as much as you want, but for someone to do what I just saw you do to someone who loves and trusts you as much as that boy does, you have to have something just downright rotten inside of you.”

“It is necessary,” Kerrigan asserted, suppressing the feelings of unnecessary guilt that the Medicus somehow managed to elicit from her. It was a tradition that dated back to the fall of the mankind to the Iron Men. The doctor could not help but have such a limited perspective on the workings of the Adeptus Mechanicus; he did not understand the true way of things. “The ritual serves a purpose. It allows us to weed out those too feeble or weak-minded to undergo the transition.”

“Weed out the weak?” Dr. Franklin gagged at the thought of it. “Jesus. what would you have done if he didn't answer the question right?”

“I am in need of new servitors,” Kerrigan replied noncommittally, “The process would have taken longer, and Orr would have needed to get some more specific augmentics from my transport, but I could easily have converted him to a combat servitor of some sort.”

“Get out of my med bay Magos,” said the Doctor in a smoldering whisper of abject hatred, “Get out of my med bay now.”

Trusting in the Alliance medicus' skills to nurse Abbas back to wellness, Kerrigan acquiesced, spinning about and walking to the door. “When he wakes up, tell him to meet me in my quarters so that I can fit him for mechandrites.”

Bizack grumbled as they walked about how the Magos ought to let him go back and give that upstart medicus a good thrashing for his cheek, but she was only half listening. She thought back to her own initiation and tried to remember how she'd felt at the time. Time had long since dulled the centuries-old memory, but a vague impression remained of a small girl lying on a stone table in incomprehension as a woman she'd loved like a mother cut off the tips of her fingers and treated her as a stranger.

It was perhaps best that she had not preserved that memory engram. Some things were best forgotten, no matter how necessary they were at the time.

-=-

Michael swore furiously at the sight of yet another Psi-corps patrol weaving their way through the tourists front of the transport authority, reflected in the small mirror he was using to peek around corners. He'd been doing his best to take uncommon paths and disused routes to avoid the Psi-corps, but ultimately there were a limited number of places from which one could leave the planet Mars without raising suspicion or extradition. The Psi-corps had limited him from the majority of them.

He hadn't put much thought into an escape strategy from Mars in his initial plans. Susan's apparent arrest had been illegal; he would only have needed to get as far as the nearest Earthforce base before he could secure safe passage back to Babylon 5. He had backup plans, of course, but all of them were intended for one or two, not three. It wouldn't do them any good to steal a shuttle if they asphyxiated prior to reaching safe harbor in Narn space where they couldn't be extradited for ship-theft. His plans could be modified, but only to a point.

Contacting the “Free Mars” group for passage was an option, but he doubted that they would work with him knowing that he had a Dilgar in tow. The first time she made a catty comment about inferior races, someone would put a PPG round in her head, for entirely legitimate reasons. Warmaster Nya'dun lacked the infamy of the higher ranking Dilgar war criminals, but she had a list of crimes to her name to curdle the blood. The woman was evil, unrepentant and unashamed of it.

“How the hell do you get yourself into these situations, Garibaldi,” Michael whispered to himself. “You should have stayed home, watched the game, maybe played some poker, but noooo- you had to travel halfway across the galaxy to save two scumbags.”

“We can hear you Mr. Garibaldi,” hissed the warmaster in irritation, “Speaking softly doesn't make the sound travel any less directly into my ears.”

“I'd suggest not interrupting Officer Garibaldi's self-recriminating monologues. Although irritating, they seem to aid his thinking process,” droned Mr. Bester as he adjusted the black gloves on his hands, “And he has been seriously considering shooting both of us for several days now.”

“Stay out of my head, Bester,” growled Michael, irritated.

“Don't flatter yourself, Mr. Garibaldi, there is no need for telepathy to read you. You've been toying with the butt of your pistol since we first escaped the Martian research outpost.” He smiled innocently. “If you hadn't been thinking about it, I would seriously fear for my own safety. The alternative is that I would be following a madman.”

“So you are permitted to be abrupt with the Garibaldi, but not me?” The Warmaster crossed her arms irritatedly, hissing slightly on each final syllable.

The telepath rolled his eyes and replied, “Of course I am. He won't shoot me until I've given him the proof he needs of Clark's guilt. You, dear Warmaster, have remained entirely coy about what information you have.”

“My information is not for sale until I reach the custody of the Non-Aligned Worlds.” The Warmaster hissed, whiskers aquiver, “It is-”

“About the surviving Dilgar military disposition, yes you've said a thousand times already.” Garibaldi sighed in exasperation, “We've been on the run for weeks now, so could you at least change things up every once and a while?”

“I previously tried being forthright with the Earth Alliance on the subject. Their accommodations were insufficient for my needs.” The Warmaster absently reached up to a long pink mass of scars reaching from her eyebrow up and around her notched ear. The woman's eyes unfocused for a moment as she regressed to memory, shivering. “And I hesitate to provide information until I am certain that I won't... return...”

Mr. Bester hugged the Warmaster, stroking the fur behind her ears and cooing softly, “You're safe, kitten. We're safe, it’s over and you do not have to return. Focus on the cold of the air and the softness of your coat. This is not an illusion; illusions miss minor irritations and intricacies.” Garibaldi forced himself to stop gaping at the sight of Bester, of all people, showing kindness to anyone.

He pinched her cheek, hard. The Dilgar meowled in irritation and punched Mr. Bester in the gut, knocking the wind out of him. He wheezed loudly, resting his arms on his knees as he turned to face Michael and said, “It was common practice for the interrogators to present us with fantasies of escape so that we would reveal information about ourselves. They would spend days, even weeks, letting us believe that we'd escaped and found safety before bringing us back to reality and proving just how trapped we were.”

“You think that I'm a fantasy of escape?” Michael groaned in irritation, “You think none of this is real.”

“Me? Most certainly not; I refuse to believe that any of my former subordinates are cruel enough to envision an escape fantasy where I have to endure your hour-long irritated conversations with yourself as you listen to Martian league baseball on your interlink as we sneak through the Martian sewerage system.” Bester looked pityingly at the Dilgar as she pulled her cowl up over her ears and cloak tighter over her uniform, “She, however, has been a test subject for new interrogation techniques for close to a decade - and my presence does not ameliorate her fears.”

“You interrogated her.” Michael groaned, “That's why you knew what she knows.”

“Only in vague terms.” The Dilgar smiled, flashing a mouth of sharp fangs, “Ten years and they never broke me. Pitiful.”

“You proved a most interesting puzzle,” Mr. Bester agreed in a tone of gentle competition, as though chatting with an old rival at a sporting event, “I had to reconsider a number of previously presumed constants of telepathic interrogations. But no, during my tenure we relied purely upon mental rather than physical implements. I have no need of such crutches.”

“And you trust him why, precisely?” Michael sighed.

“Dear man, do you believe that there is another person who can pretend to be as smug as Bester genuinely is for any length of time? Since they took him prisoner he's been delighting in throwing a spanner into their attempts to interrogate me,” She shrugged. “If this is a fantasy, it's proved amusing enough to warrant indulging in it before the electrified pain spikes come back. I'm in no hurry to revisit those.”

Bester growled in professional irritation, “Brutish amateurs. Information gained by such primitive means is hardly worth the effort.”

“I'm surrounded by crazy people,” Michael sighed and looked back to his mirror. The Psi-corps officers had rounded the bend, heading for the southern entrance, “OK people, look alive. We're heading for the Minbari port authority. If we can make it in there, we can claim amnesty.”

It was an odd byproduct of the Minbari surrender at the battle of the line. Minbari ships had not been allowed to land in Earth Alliance territory as part of the terms of their surrender, but there was a massive fleet in orbit of earth that needed to restock its supply of quantum-40. In an odd bit of legal maneuvering, the Earth Alliance government had declared a disused landing pad and supply yard on Mars to be Minbari diplomatic territory, so that shuttles of q-40 could be loaded without breaking the terms of the tenuous Minbari surrender. So it was that twelve square blocks of Martian territory in the largest of the dome cities was, in fact, part of Minbar.

It had become something of a tourist attraction in the following years. Initially, it was a safe place to get a look at the dreaded Minbari scourge, then later because of the ease with which one could both trade with Minbari travelers and purchase alien wares. The primarily European residents of the “Minbari-Earth border” tended to view themselves as more cosmopolitan than their other Martian brethren for living cheek-to-jowl with the aliens.

“Yes, we enter Minbari land - where we claim we engineered our own escape and ran into you while you were on vacation, and that you aided us out of the goodness of your own heart,” Bester replied in boredom. “It astonishes me that these harebrained schemes of yours somehow function.”

“What can I say? Spend enough years as an alcoholic and you get pretty good at making excuses,” Michael shrugged.

“Why does that not overburden me with confidence?” replied the Warmaster.

“You want to stay behind? Be my guest.” Michael held up his hand, counting down on his fingers, “But we are about – to – go!”

On 'go' he sprinted across the plaza, heading for the front gate of the Minbari transit authority, trusting that the sound of swift footsteps behind him were those of his fellow fugitives. Stepping off a knee-high wall he leapt three feet and onto the tabletop outside a French café. A startled couple yelled in surprise as he ran across their breakfast and onto the next table, leapfrogging his way across the bistro.

A broad-shouldered man rose to his feet with a yell of, “Oye! The fu-” only to be knocked forward into his eggs and toast by a sharp strike to the kidney as the Warmaster shoved him out of her way, growling ferociously. The howling of a large cat rose some primal fear in the humans, prompting them to leap out of the path of the Dilgar. Bester, as was his habit, jogged casually behind the frenzied feline with an expression of mild interest as he eyed the various breakfasts.

Slipping slightly from the egg on his shoe as he hit the ground, Michael narrowly avoided death as a PPG shot seared its way past his face, the sound of their bid for freedom apparently having alerted the Psi-corps patrol to their presence. Ten black-uniformed men charged through the crowd of tourists, firing their PPGs into the air to scare the civilians out of their line of fire.

Michael dived into a crouch, hiding behind a marble fountain shaped in the form of a prancing horse. Steam rose in great clouds as plasma fire shot through the streams of water coming from the horse's nostrils, providing Nya'dun with nominal cover as she followed Michael to his hiding place. As the Warmaster rose her pistol to fire back Michael grabbed her by the wrist, “No, you might hit civilians.”

“Better them than us!” Bester screamed across the path from where he was crouching behind a, now scorched, palm tree. He flinched as a bowling ball sized coconut crashed to the ground between his legs, “Jesus.”

“We need to get move!” Michael shouted over the sounds of PPG fire and screaming, “If we let them pin us down here we're as good as dead!”

“There is no cover at all over there! We'd be giving ourselves to them on a platter.” The Warmaster growled irritatedly, “That's no solution at all.”

“Must I be the only one who can think in a crisis?” Bester growled in irritation, picking up the coconut and heaving it across the plaza and into the front gate, ducking into a roll and taking cover with the two other fugitives as his projectile flew through the air. It soared five yards before smashing the window of the guardhouse.

“Well that was wholly unnecessary,” sighed the Warmaster, exasperated, “Shall we yell insults next?”

“No,” Michael smiled, catching onto Bester's line of thinking, “Next we surrender.”

“What!” the Dilgar hissed, fur standing on edge as though she'd just received an electric shock, “Are you completely mental?!”

“Good thinking Mr. Garibaldi, that will expedite our escape considerably,” nodded Bester, “ten feet should do it I think?”

“Better make it twenty to be sure,” Michael agreed, looking at his watch. “They've had enough time by now and I want to make it look good.”

Michael held up his pistol, tossing it over the fountain and into the plaza. It scattered six yards across the tiled ground. Bester, following Michael's lead, did the same. The telepath then held his fingers to his temple in a gesture of concentration, wincing slightly as he sent a message of surrender across the plaza.

“This had better be another hallucination,” griped the Dilgar as she tossed hers as well, “Humans cannot possibly be this crazy.”

“They've accepted our surrender,” Bester opened one eye and looked at Michael in surprise, “And yours, though I'd thought they'd rather shoot you on principle.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Michael griped as he stood up and walked out from where he hid, taking care to keep his palms behind his head, taking care to stay on the left side of the horse with his back to the Minbari Transit Authority.

“That's far enough,” barked the senior Psi-corps officer in an Scottish brogue as he motioned for his subordinates to approach the fugitives. “You're nicked.”

Michael did not resist as two large men forced him into a crouch, tying his arms at the wrists with plastic ties, though he did protest in irritation as one of them roughly groped his body searching for hidden weapons, “Oye, buy me dinner first buddy.”

The Psi-cop kneed him in the gut for his cheek. Garibaldi huffed in discomfort and fell to his knees, huffing for air as he watched the Dilgar struggle against her captors, hissing and biting at them, “You won't take me without a fight, you useless genetic wastrels! I'll gut you and feast on your entrails.”

“A charming woman,” the senior officer eyed Bester contemptuously from where two officers twisted the telepath's arms in a painful submission hold, “I can tell what you see in her.”

He turned back to the cowering crowd of tourists, cupped his hands, and yelled, “Nothing to see here folks, I'm sorry for interrupting your day with this little bit of law enforcement unpleasantry. It's over now.”

“I wouldn't precisely say that,” replied a jovial voice from the direction of the Minbari transit authority, “I suspect there are a few matters still up in the air.”

A handsome long-haired man with just a shock of a beard and mustache walked towards the Psi-cops, his Minbari uniform clashing with his obviously human features. Two highly irked members of the Minbari warrior caste followed him closely as he strode forwards, spinning the rounded shape of a coconut on his fingertips like a basketball.

Humming cheerily as he near skipped his way over to the senior Psi-cop, he extended his unoccupied hand to the officer, “Liaison on behalf of the Earth-Minbari Co-operation Bureau. Pleased to meet you.”

The officer did not accept the man's outstretched hand, eyeing it distastefully as he said, “Never heard of it. Now if you'll get you of my way, I can take these fugitives into custody.”

“Yes,” sighed the man wistfully as he tossed the coconut over into the Psi-cops’ hands, “You see, I'm afraid there is a problem with that. These three committed an act of vandalism against a building in Minbari territory, so they're going to have to explain themselves to the Minbari magistrate.”

“These people are wanted for treason, jail-breaking, and attempted murder,” growled the Psi-cop.

“Not on Minbar, I'm afraid,” the man shrugged, “That strikes me as a problem for Earth Alliance territory.”

“We are in Earth Alliance territory.” the officer said tersely.

“No,” replied one of the stone-faced Minbari, “The border of the Transit Authority is surrounded by five yards of unclaimed territory to prevent tariff disputes. You are currently in a demilitarized zone.”

“This is absurd,” the officer shook his head in incredulity, “I'm taking them with me. Want to stop me? You're going to have to shoot your way through us.”

“Well, you do have so many more guns than us,” The man admitted, looking conspiratorially to the two Minbari before snapping his fingers. With a roar of sudden shifting air, the oblong bluish forms of two Nial fighters flew up from behind the high walls of the Minbari compound, each of them rotating heavy fission cannons towards the Psi-corps officers, “But ours are just so much bigger than yours.”

“This isn't legal!” howled the Psi-cop in fear, “You can't do this!”

“Oh, it would likely cause a diplomatic incident if we do, sir,” the man said agreeably, “Heck, we'd probably have to give up this outpost entirely. And Lernon would just be heartbroken about that. Wouldn't you, Lernon?”

The warrior caste soldier just grunted. The man patted him on the shoulder and sighed, “You'll have to pardon Lernon; he never entirely got over not being able to finish the Battle of the Line. But I suppose you're about to give him his chance, aren't you?”

It was the look of contempt on the Minbari's face that seemed to convince the Psi-cop to back off, even more so than the fission cannons of the fighters. He snarled in frustration and made a rude gesture towards the man with his hand, “This isn't over.”

“You may report any issues you have with us to the Minbari ambassador on Babylon 5. I'm sure she'll just love to have you explain why you started a firefight in front of a diplomatic residence,” The man ran his thumb up his own forehead, tipping an invisible hat, “Best of luck to you.”

The Minbari led the three fugitives safely behind the walls of the Minbari Transit Authority before the front gates shut with a resounding iron clang, hiding the spiteful face of the officer from view. With a slight chuckle the man let out a long, low whistle of relief, “I can't believe that worked.”

“What!” squawked the Dilgar as he cut her wrists loose.

“There isn't any no man's land,” Michael replied, “He was lying.”

“Then what was your plan?” she crooned.

“I was trying to get the Minbari to ask for a list of charges, as is Minbari custom, and under Earth Alliance law they must produce to anyone who asks. Either he'd have to fake the charges, which we could dispute, or he'd have to admit them, which would reveal an illegal torture facility,” Bester shrugged, “But this was vastly more preferable. Why precisely did you do it?”

“I'm under orders to help him,” he pointed to Michael, “Get back to Babylon 5 and get things back the way 'they are meant to be.' Or something to that effect; my orders tend to be rather cryptic and esoteric.”

“Ordered by whom precisely?” probed Bester.

“He had a message for you specifically, Michael,” The man pursed his lips in thought, “Ah, yes! 'A black ship and a scorched badge makes long friends.”

Michael laughed, relaxing as the man cut the bonds off his wrists. The security chief knew very well very well where that message came from, and what it meant. Jeffrey Sinclair, the former commander of Babylon 5 and current Human Ambassador to Minbar, had been with him when the two of them had discovered a secret Psi-corps research outpost working on some unknown alien ship. The only evidence they'd been able to walk away with was a scorched Psi-corps logo. The knowledge of both ship and badge were exclusively known to the two of them. “How did he know?”

“That you were here? He didn't,” The man smiled, “But we tracked your flight plan.”

“How in the- It wasn't even under my I.D! I hopped ten different transports under different names. Heck, I went into Narn and Centauri space before coming to Mars,” Michael sputtered.

“Our mutual friend suggested some of your favored aliases,” The man shrugged, “It wasn't hard to find once I knew what to look for. And I have a - er - range of associates in various places.” The man glared spitefully at Michaels companions. “I hope you'll pardon me for not going more into detail considering our company.”

“Yes, yes, we already know you don't like us,” the Dilgar eyed the Minbari speculatively, as though considering the ways to overpower them. “Can we please get to the part where you threaten us, then take us on that delightful-looking diplomatic ship being gassed up even as we speak? I'd like to be off-world before the Psi-corps think to fool the Air Traffic Authority into shooting us down prior to reaching the jump gate, thinking we're some sort of flying bat-creature opening the gates of hell.”

“Yes... that would be unfortunate,” the man agreed, “Very well, children, everybody grab their buddy and let's get started on our field trip to Babylon 5. My name is Marcus, and I will be your guide for the duration.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

The Lady Sáclair luxuriated on a gilded throne as it hovered through the air, strumming her fingers across her chest. Her belly, great with child, swaddled snugly into an augmentic corset that aided in supporting the additional heft of her soon to be born son. The great golden face of a roaring lion heaved and fell with her calm, slow breathing. The child was more placid than she was used to, but the Medicus assured her that it was to be expected given the higher-gravity environment of the newly colonized moon. It would take time for the unborn Lord Sáclair's muscles to adjust to the additional strain.

Annabelle's own aches and pains had increased since landing upon the planet, the dull and expected pains of motherhood exacerbated by the near-perpetual exhaustion of moving in slow motion. Throne bless Magos Tuul, who'd had the good sense to send the anti-gravity chair in addition to the household items she'd insisted upon bringing down from the Endless Bounty. It would rather have ruined the image of regal poise that she labored to maintain for the good of her subjects. A subject respected a leader who gave just cause for deference.

And there was great need for deference in dealing with the new task of bringing civilization to the untamed Terra Firma of the twin moons of Vega Six, dubbed New Belzafest and the Lion's Perch respectively. New Belzafest was a verdant moon, as different from its namesake as one could imagine. The Lion's Perch was substantially smaller, if no less verdant, and housed a long since disused spaceport as well as an orbiting station for refueling starships within spitting distance of the massive xenotech-constructed hyperspace-gate.

It had been years since the Lady Sáclair had left her husband's side, but in light of the danger he faced, Nathaniel had been adamant that she took the children to New Belzafest to aid and support the in the foundation of their new colony. It pained her to do so, but she had consented for the good of her children. With the notable exception of David, they would all be safely away from conflict. It hadn't escaped her notice that there were scrupulously few men of fighting age who'd been assigned to the recolonization effort, and suspiciously many new mothers, children, and teachers.

With the exception of her own private guard of Lionhearts and a decent number of Adeptus Arbites, the fledgling world's military assets consisted of a skeleton regiment of aging soldiers and injured Guardsmen. They manned the garrison, who spent as much time napping in the warm sunlight as they did patrolling the perimeter for dangerous beasts. And though a number of outdated, unshielded, and Warp-incapable ships were left for the defense of New Belzafest, Annabelle feared that they would be woefully unprepared for any sort of attacks. About her only seasoned force short of her own personal guard was a regiment of one hundred well-meaning but ill-mannered Ogryn.

But that would change when the Endless Bounty returned. Not if.When. And the colony would be prepared to start a new pocket of glorious Empire in Terra's name. It had been a month since she'd last seen hide or hair of her husband, but she would soon. She sighed and cracked her neck, wet pops clicking as she massaged the stiffness out. “I suppose that's enough quiet for one day.”

“If you say so, Ma’am,'” replied Corporal Maziv in his low purring grumble, his milky white augmentic eyes glowing slightly in the dull evening light. He was so old that even augmentics and anti-agapics could only slow the rate of physical decay, rather than stop it. Nobody knew exactly how old he was, since Maziv never bothered to keep track, but he was old enough to have served Sáclair's grandfather some two hundred years before. His reflexes and loyalty hadn't wavered in all that time. “The Circle will likely have started by now.”

“Yes,” Anabelle pursed her lips and flipped the activator to her chair, “I suspect they have.”

The Belzafesters were entirely polite and respectful, but no less infuriating to deal with. The former Belzafest colony had no nobles. The governorship of the colony was appointed by a representative of the Inquisition when the position became vacant, but all other positions in government were elected ones. Consequently, while they did respect her as the de facto governess of the new colonies, they had some strange notions about how one ought to treat their sovereign, not the least of which was that they expected to make policy absent their governess.

Maziv grunted, “They mean well, ma’am, they just think different.”

“Careful Maziv, you'll be telling the Lionheart recruits that they've done a good job next,” Annabelle jested. Maziv would no more give compliments than grow wings and fly.

“I Throne well won't. Give them a compliment and they go and get themselves dead in some foolishness,” Maziv nodded firmly, “Better disappointed at their scores than dead on the battlefield.”

“How are the young Lionhearts?” For their safety, all Lionhearts too young for active combat had been reassigned to New Belzafest, much to their annoyance.

“They complained at first; young men are always eager to throw themselves into the jaws of battle and death. Fools, the lot of them are. But Fadir and some of the boys who were unable to continue active duty after Belzafest have been taking them through stealth exercises in the woods, which seems to have taken their mind off of it,” Maziv sighed, “It's the little ones who worry me. The boys younger than ten are terrified of the jungle noises. Some damned fool showed them a copy of a Catachan holo-vid and they've become convinced a Catachan Devil is going to eat them in the night.”

“Yes,” Annabelle sighed, “The Consort Aran was lamenting something similar, though I find it difficult to take anything Isabel says without a grain of salt.”

Annabelle found dealing with the consort wives of her husband to be exhausting. Her husband rarely consulted her on the decision to take a new concubine, if ever, and even then it was only a matter of her own aesthetic preferences. He wanted to pick women who she found sufficiently attractive to share her bed with.

To be sure, at times it worked out splendidly. Sáclair's first concubine, Ariana Rendra, had been a pleasure both inside and out of the bedroom. They'd lived as equals until an unfortunate side effect of giving birth to Anthony, Nathaniel's second bastard child, had killed her. It was perhaps why the boy had grown up to be so taciturn later in life.

Annabelle had not had as pleasant a relationship with any of the subsequent consorts. Regina Kora, though pleasant enough, was a bore and a dullard. She was a great listener to be sure, but Annabelle resented the woman's supposition that Regina's offspring would take the place of her own were she unable to mother an heir.

The Lady Sandra Nixya had not been a consort as such, as she was Captain of the Crossed Cutlasses. She'd left the product of her affair in artificial wombs to come to term prior to leaving for the northern rim of space. For the children's sake, she'd forced Nathaniel to declare the woman an official concubine. He'd never been able to abide the sight of them, so hurt was he by the Lady Nyxia's dismissal of him. Annabelle, however, had loved them as her own. It had been with great sadness that she'd consented to send them to the Schola Progenitum, but they had neither skill nor titles and would need both to thrive in life.

Kifah Narjis was well intentioned but irritating. Kifa had no particularly irritating habits, but as a woman barely two years older than Ami she'd seduced the lord Sáclair while working as his chamber maid. The sheer cheek of it was infuriating.

And the less said about the Isabel Aran and the better. Isabel Aran's only notable merits were her unusual sexual appetite and a body born of constant, narcissistic levels of fitness. It was the damned Inquisitor's fault. It had been in the stress of fleeing his pursuit that Nathaniel had taken Isabel to his bed, and then in his incarceration that they'd been trapped together.

She loved her husband dearly, and tolerated them for his sake, but there was a part of her that questioned the necessity of the concubines at all. It was his right by birth and conquest to do so, but what a man could do and what he ought to do were seldom the same. If he'd focused on her and only her, perhaps they'd even have a boy by now. No, the here and now, stick to the here and now.

For family and duty she stuck to what mattered.

Annabelle leaned back into the cushion of her chair, the soft velvet cool against her aching back as the golden throne hovered over the red tile floor. “Come on Maziv. I've dawdled long enough.”

Warm sunlight shone in through the wide windows favored by Centauri architects, encouraging rebellious flowering vines to shimmy into the dwelling. Neither the Belzafesters nor the Endless Bounty crewmen were particularly skilled in the art of horticulture, and the process of clearing the thick mess of encroaching wilderness had slunk along in a ponderous crawl of confusion, accidents, and delays. It was a minor miracle that any of the dwellings were fit for habitation at all, having been abandoned for decades. Yet whatever else might be said of the Centauri, they build their structures to last.

The short journey was pleasant, if nothing else. The Lionhearts and ship's security eagerly saluted the Lady as the throne passed them, even if there was a slight sheen of boredom in their eyes. For a wild and untamed planet, their stay had been decidedly unremarkable so far. Even the local fauna had, as of yet, not caused any problems to speak of other than causing some unfortunate allergic issues for the Narn Embassy. And that was hardly world-shattering.

It was during this rather soporific musing that the chair swooped round a corner, colliding with a resounding thud of flesh as a bemused nobleman squawked in bafflement. Hiding her smile of contented surprise she snorted imperiously at the upended man. “Good morning Lord Sørian.”

“Milady,” the oily weasel of a man smiled up at her, “A good morning indeed. I was just examining the most interesting flower.”

“Ah,” Annabelle replied noncommittally, deigning to commit as little importance to the man's opinions as she could. Annabelle hated Sørian. The man was lecherous, self indulgent, self important, and simperingly saccharine in his supplication. Her good husband, in a mood that smacked more of liquor than brilliance, had come to the decision that Sørian ought to be appointed to the Belzafest colony as an advisor. Though what advice he expected the irritating man to give was entirely beyond her.

The man continued to smile vapidly as the silence dragged on, smiling expectantly at her. Exasperated, she asked, “What is so interesting about the flower?”

The nobleman held up a small white bud between his thumb and forefinger, still attached to the vine. The petals shifted as he touched them, straining towards the sunlight no matter where he turned the stem, “Most curious, are they not?”

“Living things aspire to keep on living, Sørian. Even plants are very skilled at adapting to that end,” She rubbed her own belly, “We do everything to keep on living so that we can pass on our genes to the next generation.”

“Do we?” Sørian picked the bud off the stem and tossed it into the darkness. The tiny bud fluttered about in the shade before pinwheeling about as though drawn by a magnet, rocketing over to another vine, “Because to be frank, milady, it rather seems like we've been allowing bendies to roam free among the groxes.”

“You tread on dangerous ground,” Annabelle's harsh alto snapped with such severity that all Lionhearts within earshot started eyeing Sørian with anticipative apprehension. Maziv's milky eyes narrowed as his hand casually rested upon the pommel of a curved scimitar.

Sørian was either too determined or too foolish to allow her warning to dissuade him from continuing, “Madam, the Amon Sui have been quiet as of late, but they are not gone. Now, more than ever, we need to be prepared for their treachery.”

“You surprise me,” Annabelle relaxed in her seat, “I'd rather been led to believe your loyalties lay elsewhere.”

“The Amon Sui have no love for me, milady,” The nobleman tipped his felt hat with a slight jingle of bells sewn into the seams of his waistcoat, “And I am ill-suited for subterfuge and sabotage. But I know people. I know their minds and their desires. And I intend to find them. For the good of the crew, for those who have... who have become special to me.”

Ami, ugh, she had been fearing this. Her daughter had developed an unhealthy level of dependence upon the man's council. How Ami had even meet the wastrel was a mystery, but she would not see her daughter wed to someone so entirely unsuitable for her. Sørian was a man of proper breeding but a small heart.

Her husband had given approval? Bah, he was no mother. Ami deserved a man who would love her properly.

“Out of the goodness of your heart?” Annabelle chuckled derisively. Sørian had never been known to give a single copper penny at the collection plate. “I seem to recall a moment where a young nobleman had said 'If the Emperor planned on us wasting time and energy on every damned persons’ problems, he would have made us all Primarchs or nobles.”

“A youthful foolishness,” Sørian splayed his right hand over his breast. “One that I regret terribly.I assure you milady, that I am long past youthful foolishness."

“No, Sørian, you've more than contented yourself with infections of the adult persuasion." Annabelle rolled her eyes at the man's rejected look of spite. Yes, therein lay the true man. "Sørian, like most women I do keep track of the ship’s gossip. Unlike most women, I have unfettered access to the ships records. A curious number of women in your service seem to leave the Endless Bounty under mysterious circumstances when the ship makes port."

"I have no idea to what you refer, madame..." The nobleman hedged, "I do not keep track of every servant in my household."

"Oh, don’t lie to me. It is a waste of both our time. Your purpose is no secret to me. I know your mind too well, my husband was cut off too similar a cloth," the lioness within her reared angrily, "Bastard children sired from servant girls and pretty faces are the byproduct of many a nobleman's sporting. But I will not abide a man romancing my daughter who would so discard a woman bearing his seed."

“You wound me, madame! I have no clue to what you refer. If there were any servants to be replaced, it would be my varlet, who organizes such mundane household affairs." Søians face was a mask of practiced innocence, betraying none of the anger she knew to be simmering just beneath the surface. "I have no carnal knowledge of any woman in my employ. The satisfaction of such urges is unthinkable to me."

"There wasn't likely much thinking involved, I suspect. " The Lady Sáclair was being far more blunt than was her custom, but in the fullness of her womanhood her pregnancy had drained her patience for the game of houses. Tired, achy, and hormonal as she was, there seemed little time to be wasted on roundabout speech. “Fortunately for you, I have no intention of relying upon your unique ability to 'not think' your way into her small-clothes. Contrary to what you may believe, servants are more than capable of both listening and speaking their minds. The servants in my employ do so more than most, I suspect. Your attempts to ingratiate yourself with a woman thirty years your junior have not been a subtle as you desire. She may find your company agreeable, but I find it wholly inappropriate.”

“Madam, I do not pretend to know what sort of gossip you might know of me. Nor do I claim to be a saint. But whatever poison has been poured into your ear is, I assure you, entirely a misunderstanding.” The nobleman bowed deeply and handed over one of the white flowers to her, “I can only say that envy and trickery have never been beyond the nobility. We sometimes forget to observe what is right in front of us for fear of some dark plot. I am her friend, nothing more. If I have overstepped my bonds, please accept my most humble of apologies.”

Never for lack of courtesy, the Lady Sinclair politely sniffed the bud. Throne, but it was intoxicating, a vague smell of lavender and cooking pies. She couldn't precisely place it, but it was possibly the most lovely thing she'd ever smelled. She lost her train of thought as she stared into the bud. “These are magnificent. We'll have to make sure to plant these in the garden.”

“They already are planted in the garden,” Maziv grumbled informatively, “You ordered them burned.”

“Did I?” Annabelle sniffed the flower again, feeling the aches and discomforts of her pregnancy melting away. “That seems a shame, they really are lovely. Such a wonderful scent...”

“Madam,” The nobleman got down on his knees and pulled his wide hat from his head, displaying the many jeweled combs holding a powdered whig of finest grox-mane in place, “I only seek to advise and to aid you in your search for the traitors to our livelihood. They are no friends of my family, and I fear us all. I am at your disposal, and in your service.”

“Yes, I suppose... I suppose that could be arranged,” She sighed and reclined back into her chair. It was getting harder to concentrate. A bout of fatigue? Odd, she did not usually tire until her afternoon tea, “Maziv, I grow weary. Let us retire.”

“Before seeing the Circle madam?” Maziv grunted.

“No, no of course not. I just... Of course, let us head to the Circle,” Annabelle pinched her nose hard and let go of the flower, starting her addled senses back to waking, “I cannot wait till I can finally drink a decent cup of recaf. Ah, very well Lord Sørian. If you wish to hunt Amon Sui, then hunt them you shall.”

Her mouth twitched into a devious smile as a solution to the Ami problem came to mind, “In fact that shall be your only job from henceforth. I am appointing six Lionhearts to follow you day and night to aid in your search. Till the Amon Sui are no longer a threat you shall not be without them, day or night until even the name Amon Sui is forgotten.”

“Certainly that's excessive! A man must have some privacy after all. My apartments are secure enough,” The man hastily replied, doubtlessly thinking of some comely maid in his employ. Perhaps he even had someone higher-born in mind; now that she’d thought of it, the Lady Huin had been sending jealous looks towards Ami whenever she'd gotten attention from the Lord Sørian.

“If you insist,” Annabelle replied in a voice of motherly concern. She didn't especially need the Lionhearts with him when he was within the confines of his bedroom, only around to shield Ami from the advances of an older man. Sørian was highly unlikely to unearth anything of importance in his search anyway.

Sørian looked slightly green as six Lionhearts materialized from behind tapestry and next to cupboards, falling into lockstep with him, “Are they to obey me?”

“Only if you're not acting the prat and giving good advice,” Maziv grunted with his diplomatic air, “Noble you are, Sáclair you aren't. You're a guildsman, nay a shipman.”

Sørian's eyes narrowed, “I did not ask you, lowborn. I asked your mistress.”

“Maziv, if he speaks without a civil tongue in his head again, please remove it,” Annabelle enjoyed the look of shock in Sørian's eyes as she said, “Oh, honestly. Even were he to do it, the Medicus can grow you a new one in a matter of hours. It would be painful, but certainly deserved for being so rude to my subjects. You're a noble, do try and act like it.”

“I will keep your advice in mind milady,” the nobleman bowed, “Now if you will excuse me, I have to oversee the transfer of property into my new household.”

The Lady Sáclair nodded curtly, to which Sørian rushed out of the corridor. His six shadows followed him in lockstep, much to the nobleman's irritation.

“Come on, Maziv,” She sighed, “The Circle will arrange the terms of diplomatic relations with the Narn without us if we don't hurry. No sense of decorum, I swear.”

“Yes mam,” replied the Lionheart dutifully, “If you say so ma’am.”


Last edited by Todeswind on 2013-01-14 02:51am, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-01-14 12:04am
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Location: Fukuoka, Japan
----====-----=====----=====-----======------====----===----

Geneva is beautiful in spring. John had been to the capital city of Earth before, but never during spring. In spite of their newfound importance where the Earth government had been founded, the Swiss staunchly refused to allow any developments that might ruin the aesthetic beauty of their countryside. Barring, of course, the sizable space ports in Zurich and Geneva.

It was odd really, as Jon wasn't unaccustomed to either travel. As the son of a diplomat he'd grown up being carted around from place to place, always finding himself in foreign worlds. Yet for whatever reason, Geneva just hadn't really figured into his travel plans. When he'd finally been old enough to pay for his own vacations, it had felt simpler to head back home and visit family.

Oh hell, he'd forgotten to call his mother when he landed. He'd sent her an interlink message, of course, but she wouldn't stop being anxious till she spoke face to face on the comms. John couldn't wish for a better mother, but the woman was the queen of worriers.

He looked to his lawyer as she examined her legal briefings for what had to be the millionth time, asking “Is there a telephone in this car?”

“This is a government issue limousine, Captain, and no location devices of any kind are in use.” She held up a handheld telephone and tapped the top left corner, where a prominent red “ø” flashed, “And they prevent any signals from leaving it as well. Its a new procedure they've put in place to prevent the remote detonation of bombs. The new Earth Force One has something similar.”

“Will I be able to make a call before my hearing?” John really ought to call her.

“Captain we're lucky they didn't do the hearing in absentia,” Miss Corey joked darkly, surreptitiously eyeing his uniform as though searching for the slightest flaw that might harm her case. Finding none, she pulled a small box from her handbag and tossed it to John.

He caught it and pulled a long yellow band of fabric out, “What's this?”

“I want you to wrap that around your left arm,” She pointed to a series of symbols stitched on the cloth, “It's a 'remembrance band.' Some pop celebrity from Argentina came up with it. Those are the words for 'Hope' and 'Peace' written in Spanish, Drazi, Minbari, Centauri and Narn. Some of them also include it written in languages of the Non-Aligned worlds.”

“And the double headed eagle is for the Imperials, then?” John queried, running the fabric through his fingers and examining the symbols. The Minbari rune was actually slightly misspelled by whoever had done the sewing, saying 'hope and luck' instead.

“It’s become a hot button political issue. You have to wear the sash to show that you're supporting the families of the people who died on the station,” The stern woman intoned in a voice of deadly seriousness. “If you don't wear it, people will take it as a sign that you don't take their losses seriously.”

“I was there. I don't need to have a piece of cloth to remind me of something that happened directly to me.” John sighed even as he tied it around his bicep.

“I know that. You know that. Heck, even the people who are trying to nail you for this know that. But the talking heads and media circuses that will be following this trial don't care about what makes sense. It’s easier to go after you for not wearing the armband than it is to go after your military record. Hell, it’s even better for being fake outrage, because they can spend as much time talking about why it's not an issue worth speaking about as they spend talking about the issue,” She shrugged, “You can waste a bunch of time and energy on trying to fix the entire media structure, or you can wear the armband. Your choice.”

“Yeah, right,” John sighed as they pulled up to the capitol building. A sea of reporters, cameramen, and boom-microphone operators stood at the door in a veritable feeding frenzy. “Any last advice?”

“Yes,” The woman replied as she lifted herself up and climbed from the limousine, “If you end up shooting one of them, aim for Alistair Brant. I cannot stand that man's voice.”

The second he walked out of the limousine he was deluged with so many questions that it became hard to pick them out individually. An incoherent series of “Captain how...” “...what do you...” “...how did they...” and “What will be done about...” washed over him as he politely pushed his way through, repeating the same phrase over and over again, “No comment, no comment, I have no comment.”

Resisting the urge to rip an overzealous boom-microphone from its bearer's hands and beat him about the head with it, John followed the be-pantsuited lawyer on her trail up the stairs and into the capitol building. The sea of reporters washed up to the red velvet rope marking off the limit to which a civilian might walk, as even the most single-minded of them was unwilling to try the patience of the stern faced marines lining the perimeter.

John noticed idly that all of the marines were wearing the yellow bands out of their pockets rather than on their arms so as not to violate the strict uniform expectations of their superior officer. Perhaps Miss Corey had been right about the band.

The ostentatious interior of Earthdome was abuzz with interns and Senators discussing matters of state in hushed tones. Judging by their silence when he was within earshot, they were likely discussing him. John tried not to pay it too much attention, as it was bound to happen really. It didn't matter if one was in middle school or the highest offices of government; gossip was a universal currency.

Miss Corey checked her watch and looked at the flashing red light above the Senate door to indicate that they were locked, “I didn't know that there was going to be a Senate vote this morning. They usually vote on Thursdays, don't they?”

“Not exclusively,” John caught the eye of Senator Gomez, “But let's find out. Senator Gomez! It's been a while.”

“¿Qué tal, Capitan Sherídan?” The boisterous Spaniard replied, politely breaking away from his conversation with a lobbyist, “How are you?”

“I could be better, Senator. The sooner this ends the better,” John admitted. “I've never especially liked this sort of inquiry, even when I'm not the one being questioned.”

“Eh, these things they're never- cómo se dice- civilized. Sure we sit around speaking pretty but a knife in the back is still a knife in the back,” The senator said with his usual candor, “Most of them will pretend, but I've got another three years before reelection, so I can afford a little bit of honesty at the moment.”

“Why aren't you inside, Senator?” Miss Corey looked around at the collection of Senators that weren't within the room, “Shouldn't all the senators be voting in a closed vote?”

“For some things? Yes, of course. But some committees meet behind closed doors before bringing their findings to the general assembly. Defense, for example,” the Spaniard tossed his hands to the air in an exaggerated gesture of confusion, “We do not communicate so well between the committees, I think.”

“Which committee is meeting now?” John asked conversationally. Senator Gomez was on both the Defense Committee and the Babylon 5 Oversight Committee; any relevant vote to his own inquiry would be going through them.

“The Foreign Affairs Committee,” the Senator replied, “The Abbai have sent a delegation to Earth with some sort of a proposal for greater cooperation. No idea what it is, but Clark was eager to see that it happened.”

“Clark?” Miss Corey repeated in incredulity, “President Clark was eager to pass a proposal suggested by aliens for greater cooperation?”

“It was a good deal,” Senator replied as he looked to the suddenly green light, “You'll have to excuse me. I need to go to my seat. Good luck, Captain. For what it's worth, I'm on your side.”

“Thank you Senator,” John smiled in reply, “It means a great deal.”

“Well that's one down,” John's lawyer crossed her arms and chewed her inner lip, “That leaves only a couple hundred to go.”

“Eh,” John replied noncommittally. Nothing more really needed to be said as they walked with the general mass of people through the ornately carved doors of the Senate. The huge tiered room was structured like an amphitheater, clustered tables and wooden cubicles on each level representing the regions of the Earth Sphere government.

The Abbai delegation bowed to him politely as they passed, pausing to exchange polite greetings. The Ambassador actually flashed him a wave of her head fins, an Abbai gesture of approbation, “Captain Sheridan. It is good to see you.”

“Ambassador,” John smiled and interlocked his fingers in front of him in the Abbai gesture of welcome, “I thought you'd gone back to your home world for the Festival of Lights.”

“Lamentably, I will miss it this year. I regret it, but this was more important.” She licked the sharp inner rows of teeth with her elongated tongue. Peaceful though the Abbai were, certain predatory aspects of their former life as aquatic predators could not be overlooked. “It is lamentable, but necessary.”

“Ambassador, exactly what are you proposing that is this important?” John asked in genuine curiosity.

“Captain, my people have exactly one advantage over every other ship galaxy - shields. The Brakiri have some shielding, but when it comes to ship-to-ship combat, nobody comes close to us. It has been an advantage that has allowed us to hold our own even in the worst of times against the Dilgar,” She sighed morosely, “But now with the Imperials, it becomes transparently obvious that this advantage can not be exclusively relied upon. The landscape of warfare has changed entirely Captain. My people must adapt or soon find themselves outstripped.”

“You're here to trade for weapons?” It wasn't implausible. The Earth Alliance's offensive weapons technology was highly effective.

“We're willing to trade shielding technology in exchange for weapons, yes. And assuming it passes the general assembly, we will,” The Abbai ambassador's fin twitched, “I do not like to negotiate for weapons, but I trust Earth more than I trust Narn or Centauri Prime.”

“Understandable,” John replied, smiling at the thought of shielded Earthforce warships, “Good luck Ambassador.”

“And to you, Captain,” The Ambassador replied, leading her delegation past him and out the door, “The best of luck to you.”

John smiled back, knowing full well that the woman might have just sealed the coffin on his court-martial. Miss Corey muttered a series of four letter profanities before hissing, “You have got to be kidding me? Now? She does this now?”

“I actually approached her about something like this to her when the Imperials destroyed the Trigati.” John sighed, “Though I doubt it was presented as my idea when it came up in the Marti of Abbai. It seems like the battle with the Vorlons changed their minds.”

“It looks like we're going to do this one on charm alone then. God help you.” Miss Corey tore two pages of notes out of her legal brief and stuffed them into a pocket as they walked up to the long wooden table that sat in front of the raised podiums behind which sat the senior members of the military oversight commission, “We can't offer them the Imperial shielding technology without it being interpreted as a tacit preference for them over the Abbai. And we do not want you to appear any more aligned with them than you already appear to be.”

“Of course,” John was beginning to suspect that the universe was conspiring against him for some reason as he took his seat. The ten men upon the military oversight committee observed him with grim expressions, none of them betraying their feelings towards him. Even Senator Hidoshi, a man who was genuinely in his camp, wore an expression of disapproval.

“It's an act,” the lawyer whispered into his ear, “The ones that like you have to look just as angry as the ones that don't for the cameras. This session is being broadcast live.”

“This is a military hearing,” John hissed back, “Why are they risking the display of sensitive information?”

“Because it's a public enough tragedy that everyone thinks they have a right to hear every question being asked, and they're hoping that you will reveal something so that they can end your career for dishonorable conduct,” She whispered back, “It's not playing fair, but it's entirely legal.”

“A lot of things seem to be going that way lately,” John replied in resignation.

The Vice President looked around the room as everyone found their seats and rapped his gavel upon the podium twice once he was sure the senators were present and accounted for. “Ladies and gentleman of the Earth Alliance Senate, I call the 522nd session of the Spring Congress to order. Senator Lechner, please read the order of business.”

Senator Lechner, a red faced man with a bulbous nose, stood up from his seat behind one of the ten podiums and spoke in a sour drone, “Today's business is order G subsection 223.a.5; An Inquiry into events transporting on Babylon 5 on June 15th of 2259.”

“Very well, Senator Lechner,” The Vice President nodded once before turning towards John, “Are you Captain John Sheridan, commander of Babylon 5?”

John leaned towards his microphone and spoke into it directly, craning uncomfortably to reach it, “Yes Mr. Vice President, I am.”

“And do you swear to speak the truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?”

“I do,” John replied.

“Then let us begin,” The Vice President pulled a thick stack of paper out from a manilla envelope, put on a pair of reading glasses and looked over the stack of paper. A Jamaican man of considerable years, the Vice President was never one to be rushed. He paused for a good minute before saying, “Is this the report you submitted on June 18th?”

John opened his mouth to confirm but his lawyer reached over and snatched the microphone, “My client cannot be sure if the report you have is or is not the report he submitted, without reading the entire report in front of you. He can, however, affirm the accuracy of the report he did submit on the 18th.”

“Very well,” The Vice President thumbed through the pages, looking at each in turn, “I have to say, it's a fascinating read. Demons, the dead coming back to life, duels of sorcery with Vorlons and even an exorcism.”

“Demon was the word used by the Inquisitor, not myself.” Though if John were being brutally honest he couldn't think of a more apt word to describe the massive gaping maws and impossible geometries of the creature. The thing had just been unnatural.

“But you do insist that the dead did in fact come back to life,” Queried a Chinese senator with a pronounced mandarin slur in her “r” and “n” sounds. Her tone of amused dismissal was contemptuous in its rejection of the idea.

“We do have both corroborating witness statements and Dr. Franklin's death certificates for a dozen sentients who later came back to life and attempted to eat the patients in the Baylon med-bay,” Miss Corey interjected, pulling a thick binder out from her box, “We also have the witness statements of a dozens of Earthforce marines.”

“You cannae mean for us to believe that this is the product of sorcery,” scoffed a Senator with a distinct Scottish brogue.

“I don’t,” John shook his head, “I refer to the dead rising as 'warp sorcery' because those were the words chosen by Inquisitor Daul Hilder. I don't know how it was done, only that it was.”

“Respectfully Senator Joyce, when the dead start rising from their graves with the intention of consuming the flesh of the living, how does one refer to that without making at least casual reference to necromancy?” Senator Lechner joked politely, “If it had happened on my ship when I served in Earthforce doubt I would have resisted referring to it as a sign of the second coming.”

The assembled senators broke into polite bursts of laughter, cutting the tension somewhat. Senator Lechner waited for the laughter to subside before breaking into a question of his own, “When Inquisitor Hilder told you there was a demon on the station, did you take him at his word?”

“Of course not. It sounded insane and he assaulted a woman in the process,” John replied.

“In spite of your decision to protect the Endless Bounty from a Psi-corps investigation. A decision that robbed a number of young men of their lives,” The Chinese woman rejoined. “A curious decision.”

“I was following the charter of my station,” John ignored the jab, “I protected the Imperial ship because that was the legal thing to do, and I arrested the Inquisitor because he'd broken the law.”

“But you now believe that to have been in error?” asked senator Lechner.

“I supported it at the time, but knowing what I know now? Absolutely.” John nodded affirmatively, “In a heartbeat.”

“Because of the demon,” Sneered Senator Joyce.

“Senator, have you seen the video footage of the creature?” Miss Corey snorted, “It's a thirty-foot-tall, endless set of teeth that spat poison, ate sentients, and had an army of the risen dead. If you have a more scientifically palatable name for what the creature manage to do, my client is more than willing to use that.”

“My client is understandably emotional,” Miss Corey continued with a slight flourish of her hand, “But it cannot be overstated the invasion of the entity could not have been predicted. If you will please check section d-32 of the report I forwarded to all of you, it is abundantly clear that all required safety procedures were taken in the handling of the sleeper ship. The Captain went so far as to have an armed patrol search it. All security measures we knew to take were taken.”

The senator grumbled in disapproval, but did not overtly question the matter. The vice president however was not so quiet, “Captain, would you please like to explain why you ordered your ships to open fire upon a sovereign Vorlon vessel?”

“Captain Xinjang had already engaged in a firefight by the time I manage to order fighters to scramble,” Captain Sheridan replied, “I merely reacted to the ongoing situation.”

“And your decision to involve the Minbari attached to the machine on the planet below?” Queried an Arab senator in irritation, “Was that truly necessary?”

Before John could even consider replying to that question his lawyer had already started speaking, “Captain Sheridan could not have foreseen the force with which the Minbari in the machine would apply to the Vorlon fleet. It was entirely plausible that the Minbari would have negotiated a ceasefire, especially since the Minbari-Vorlon relationship has always previously seemed cordial. Too little is known about how that machine works at all.”

“That rather strikes me as a pertinent reason to not agitate the planet-sized death machine, then,” Senator Joyce interjected, pushing his glasses back up his nose, “Your previous reports indicated highly aggressive posturing from the planet the last time it was contacted.”

“When it was controlled by an unknown,” Senator Hidoshi cut in. “Ambassador Delenn assured us that her former mentor was virtually a pacifist. Certainly none of his published works indicated a propensity for such decisive violence.”

“Babylon 5 is not equipped to withstand a Vorlon war fleet unaided. When it comes down to a choice between making the Hail Mary play or letting the quarter of a million people on Babylon 5 die, I chose the latter. What else –,” John's temper was already starting to show more than was probably wise as his lawyer grabbed him by the sleeve and veritably tossed him back into his seat whispering, “Not now!”

“Honorable Senators, this is not reasonable,” She asserted, holding up a picture of the Vorlon Ambassador, “The wanton deaths caused by the Vorlon Kosh Naranek indicated a clear pattern of violence that would have been directed at Babylon 5. The war criminal Naranek remains under house arrest until he can be sent back to Vorlon space.”

John felt that house arrest was a generous term for pointing guns at his door and hoping he didn't come out and murder everything in his path, but pointing that out seemed unlikely to help his current situation. Leaning past Miss Corey he vocalized an irritation that had been nagging at him for a while, “Speaking of which has the Vorlon government replied to our request that he be removed from the station, or have his diplomatic status revoked so that we can try him for murder?”

“Kosh Naranek... has not been recalled by his government,” Senator Hidoshi uttered in a voice of disgust. “They assert that he acted within the limits of 'higher law,' and thus is not accountable for his actions. He will remain their Ambassador.”

“Like hell he will!” John stood up and grabbed the microphone, ignoring his lawyers attempts to snatch it back from him, “This is outrageous!”

“I couldn't agree with you more, Captain,” A firm midwestern twang rang across the senate floor as an aging man in a angularly cut grey suit. William Morgan Clark, president of the Earth Alliance, strode down the steps of the senate, looking as presidential as John had ever seen him, “This entire procedure is outrageous.”

“President Clark,” Senator Müller, a portly german man with an unconvincing wig, sighed in irritation, “Is there a reason you're interrupting this investigation?”

“I'd say that the far more pressing question is why the Earth Alliance Senate is sitting around and accusing a war hero of being derelict in his duty,” The President strode between the desk and the raised podiums, his quarter brogue oxfords clicking across the floor. He continued till he stood in the exact center of the room, on top of the semi-precious stones set into the floor in the shape of the Earth Alliance seal before continuing.

“Captain Sheridan is a man who stood up to the Minbari, the Centauri, the Narn, and even the Vorlons. He has stood defiant and he has won. This man, more than any of us, embodies Earth's fighting spirit and will to continue.”

“Mr. President,” Interjected Senator Joyce in irritation, “I do not appreciate you trying to make this issue of station of oversight into a political matter.”

“Isn't it, though?” The President shook his head, “We're looking for a head to put on the chopping block because someone must be responsible, and it's natural to look for the man who is seated highest. He has the farthest to fall, after all, and the only thing people love more than a hero is to watch him fall. Well, I don't know about you all, but I'm damn tired of us tossing away our heroes.”

There was an affirmative set of murmurs from the collected Senators, matched by an irritated hiss from Clark's political opposition. John's blood ran cold as it became abundantly clear that the President had aligned himself with the Captain. He had to resist jumping in shock when the president walked up next to him and slapped him jovially on the shoulder, “Well I believe in heroes. And Captain Sheridan is as heroic as they come. I don't know about the rest of you but I have read the station logs from that day. If the Captain will indulge me, I would like to speak in his defense briefly.”

“Yes,” John spoke, though it felt like another person was actually saying the words as he saluted the commander and chief, “Of course, Mr. President.”

“This is taken from a letter written by the head of the dock worker’s guild, a miss Neeoma Connally. She mailed it to me after she found out that the Captain was possibly going to face court martial,” He clucked as he pulled his glasses and the letter from a jacket pocket, “I'll skip past the paragraph where she uses some rather unpleasant words to describe the person who came to the decision to remove Captain Sheridan from Command. And I quote 'The fact that any of us managed to live through the horrors of June is thanks to John Sheridan. The Captain faced down an army of the undead, staying behind in the market district to make time for the rest of us to hide. I don't know what went wrong but if anyone wants to say it's John Sheridan they're going to have to go through the dock workers first.”

He held up the letter and waved the twelve pages to demonstrate his point, “There are eight hundred signatures on this letter. The surviving dock workers, not a one of them even begins to blame John Sheridan for this. Four thousand surviving crew and administration, and none of them blame John Sheridan for this.”

“And what of Commander Susan Ivanova's defection to the Empire? What of her secret telepathy?” senator Joyce interjected, “Are we to believe that he was wholly ignorant of this?”

“Susan's what!” John squawked, completely forgetting decorum, “How! Why? When?”

“The former commander Ivanova fooled everyone she knew for twenty nine years,” Senator Lechner shook his head, “The Captain cannot be realistically expected to outwit a woman who can read his mind. That's the entire purpose of the Psi-corps, to avoid that sort of abuse of power.

“Sorry, I want to go back to Susan Ivanova being in the Imperium. How the hell do you know that and why wasn't I informed?” John only realized he was shouting half way through talking. Christ, who was Garibaldi on his way to save? Had there ever even been a woman on the ship with Bester?

The Captain's heart stopped a beat. The Guards whose minds had been altered were also men he'd assigned to guarding the Inquisitor. Bester might have been a skilled enough telepath to alter men's minds but Daul Hilder was skilled enough to warp reality, “No... no she couldn't have... It isn't... how?”

“This farce has gone on long enough,” sighed the President. “I am abolishing this inquiry under article three of the Zelenka Act. Any actions taken by Captain Sheridan in the defense of his station were taken under wartime conditions and thus are not subject to peacetime expectations.”

“This is outrageous,” barked the irritated Chinese Senator. “It is an outright abuse of power! The Zelenka Act can only be invoked when war has been declared by a foreign power. I challenge this action!”

“You're welcome to try and overrule me in the general assembly,” replied the President as he shouted out to the crowd, “Is there a second?”

“I second,” replied the Senator Joyce, red-faced with anger.

“Very well then,” The Vice President, apparently the only person in the room who'd been expecting this turn of events, chuckled in amusement, “We shall put it to a vote, then.”

“All in favor of upholding the President's invocation of the Zelenka Act,” Green lights flashed from the Senators’ cubicles as they pressed the affirmative votes on their vid screens. John looked around the room trying to get a sense for how many had voted in his favor, but could not be sure.

“And all those opposed?” Another round of lights flashed, this time red, as Clark's opposition weighed in. Perhaps it was wishful thinking, but there seemed to be fewer nay votes.

The Vice President waited a minute to be sure that all the votes had been tabulated by the computer before smiling slightly. He fell slightly into his native patois as he said, “Well den' twoud' seem 'dat you've managed another one, Clark. The Act is upheld by fifty two votes.”

“Justice prevails, as it should,” replied Clark as he walked over to John Sheridan and held out his hand. The President smiled and said, “It would be my honor if you'd allow me to give you a ride back to Babylon 5 on Earthforce One.”

John stared at the hand of the man he knew to have killed the previous president, the man he was secretly working to overthrow. President Clark was man who he trusted less than a snake in the grass. Shaking the man's hand would be a show of televised support for a man who'd knowingly committed regicide. It would, for better or worse, link him publicly to the Clark administration.

John shook the viper's hand, knowing full well he would one day be the President's undoing. “Thank you, Mr. President.”

He would get to continue running Babylon 5. A key portion of the Earth Alliance government would remain outside of Clark's control, no matter the public perception. And the reality of what he was doing far outstripped the importance of any temporary political embarrassment.

An injury well earned was better than none, so long as it won you the war.

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-01-14 12:04am
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Sáclair didn't know what to make of hyperspace. He understood the warp, how it felt against the ship’s hull, the dangerous creatures perpetually clawing at its wards. It was familiar territory to him. But on the urging of his Navigators he'd permitted the Centauri and Narn ships to lead the Endless Bounty through the forgotten paths of hyperspace, so that performance tests could be conducted under controlled conditions.

The potential boon of avoiding the warp was too tempting to ignore. Yet had he realized the vast emptiness of the endless red sea, he might have reconsidered. It was maddeningly empty. No life, no sound, no light, no dangers, it was just an endless sea of shifting color and black. If the warp was hell, hyperspace was most certainly purgatory. According to the Narn Ambassador, if one were to become cast adrift they would spend eternity without ever encountering another living soul.

A ship lost in hyperspace was lost forever, never to return.

In a very real way, it was more nightmarish than the warp. He'd removed his mind from the ship an hour into the maddening silence, the absence of sensation made him too dizzy to function. One could not spend eternity stumbling through darkness like a man plummeting through empty air. If not for the braille-like abrasions of astropathic signals from hyperspace gates, he might have believed there was no exit from the void.

The sockets in his arms itched painfully, begging for the sensation of swimming through space that he'd ignored for weeks. But there was no reprieve in the silver filament, nor was there release to be found in drink. The bastard of an Inquisitor had, in his infinite wisdom, decided that there would be no drinking for anyone prior to battle. Aided and abetted by an standing order to the serving staff left by his wife, he'd not touched a drop of anything stronger than recaf in three days.

It was insufferable. Deprived of wife, concubines, children, his ship, and even a stiff drink; how in the blazes did they expect a man to live like that? His only companion at home was David, his bastard. And David spend the majority of his time pining after a girl far above his station.

“Sir,” Donat approached the great throne, data-slate in hand, “The Jan'kir reports that we are ten minutes from our destination.”

“Finally,” Sálcair exhaled in relief, cracking fingers between interlocking palms as he stretched out his arms, “What do the forward scouts report?”

“Nothing good sir,” Donat tapped his hololith with his quill, prompting the massive hololithic display in the hall to switch to a map of the Akdor. A disjointed connection of friend and foe markers darted about the orbiting moons, advancing and retreating from the planet's southern continent, “As you can see, the Alliance military has already launched an offensive on the rebel fortress... Matok I believe. The ships marked in green are of Earth Alliance and Sh'Lassen make, and the yellow dots are rebel ships.”

He twisted his stylus and zoomed in on an section of space that distorted slightly from second to second, occasional burst of energy firing from seemingly nowhere, “These are what we believe to be the ships sent by Faust. It fits the sort of sensor interference we encountered from the ship above Belzafest. Thankfully, it’s seemingly less efficient.”

“They're Throne well efficient enough,” Sáclair swore, “Get the Astropaths to work on some sort of solution to this. We can't keep using our own pilots for targets when we need to shoot someone.”

“I don't think we'll need to; there is enough of a sensor ghost for us to triangulate a rough approximation of where the shots are coming from,” Donat chewed his lip, his expressionless face contrasting with the slight worry in his voice, “My worry is that we aren't going to be able to do it unless we get someone firing at us.”

“Donat, we're a good half kilometer longer than the next closest ship and we're flying under the banner of the double eagle. Of all the things I fear, 'not enough people are shooting at us' doesn't even make my top twenty,” Sáclair inserted the silver filament from his throne into his arm, gagging at the cloying nothingness, “Throne ,that is sodding frigid! How the devil do the xenos travel through this?”

“The Navigators share your sentiments. They've been rotating in and out of their trances at twenty minute intervals for fear they might lose their minds in the vast emptiness,” Donat growled in hatred, “My understanding is that the xenos... the xenos use... they use thinking machines to achieve the same effect.”

Sáclair wished he could have some wine to settle his stomach at the thought of that many thinking machines. The fall of the first great and bountiful human society came at the hands of the Men of Iron, nearly bringing about their destruction. The Emperor had, in his boundless wisdom, decreed that no thinking machines should be allowed in his Imperium. To be so wholly reliant upon such technological devilry was unthinkable, “We're certain that the thinking machines aren't taking us to an ambush?”

“As sure as we may be,” Donat absently scratched at the back of his head with his finger, “Heresy though it may be do admit it sir... I don't suspect the xenos of betrayal.”

“Nor do I, Mr. Enzo, which is part of what troubles me.” Sáclair's fingers traced over the firing controls of his weapons ports, realizing idly that he hadn't even considered passively targeting them, “But we are under the writ of Inquisitorial mandate of Hilder ,and will act as such. If he's determined to toss himself headlong into a warzone, who am I to disagree?”

“Of course, milord,” Donat manipulated the map again, focusing upon the hyperspace gate, “Post-hyperspace combat is highly limiting due to the bottleneck inherently derivative of gate use. The enemy knows exactly where we're going to come from.”

“But the shields will be up before we leave correct?” Sáclair grinned in anticipation, watching the chronometer count down to zero, “And our assault forces are all prepared to head to the front lines?”

“Yes sir,” Donat nodded, “But I need to remind you that we're at half stock of ammunition and have precious few cyclonic torpedoes left. We have the lances, but they are hamstrung due to the targeting errors caused by Faust's ECM.”

“We'll make due with what we have,” Sáclair said, virtually seething with anticipation. So close, his reprieve from the emptiness was just out of reach.He thumbed the shipwide intercom and barked out, “All hands to battle-stations.”

The lights dimmed and his crew scurried about the hall below, moving to their battle stations. The atmosphere was tense, but curiously expectant. Having been so regularly bloodied in since the assault of Belzafest, their hearts were hardened to the danger. They knew what the Lord Sáclair expected from them, and would do so without question.

A pregnant minute of utter silence passed before the hiccuping chirrup of an incoming transmission echoed through the hall. A young officer's appeared on the hololith to address his captain, “My Lord Sáclair. We've received a hail from the G'Noa's Fury. They say it's time.”

“Then we shan't disappoint them, shall we?” Sáclair leaned back in his throne. “I say it's high time we repaid Faust for Belzafest. To Victory!”

“To Victory!” Echoed every voice on the hall, chanting again and again, “For the Emperor! To Victory!”

Sáclair closed his eyes and sunk into the nothingness. The titanic form of the Endless Bounty swam in open air, followed by a school of smaller crescent and angular xenos craft. Straight ahead of them was a puncture in the nothing, a brief window into sensation and existence. Two large Earth Alliance ships, though smaller still than the Endless Bounty, sat on either side of the puncture, wedging it open.

The nimble Narn and Centauri fighter craft exited the puncture first, the rest of the fleet following soon after into the light and warmth of realspace. Sáclair squirmed in pleasure even as the irritating pinpricks of weapons registered across the void-shields.

The battlefield was bedlam; the still-smoldering hulls of a thousand Sh'lassen ships littered the outer belts of asteroids, confusing sensors with ghosts of weapons-fire as the unused munitions in their magazines detonated. He could vaguely sense weapons-fire in the distance, his limited mind registering the ongoing dogfighting as the sharp sound of a cracking whip.

“Finally,” Sáclair growled in eagerness, “Engines to full! We need to get to the drop point.”

“Incoming fighters!” Sacomér barked in earnest surprise as dozen blurry shapes rocketed towards the fleet, appearing from the radiation. They swarmed a Centauri warship, pelting it with laser fire before swooping away as it exploded in a spectacular ball of radioactive flame.
A second Centauri warship broke formation to chase the fighter craft only to get crippled by a second fighter wing. It spun helplessly in the air as the escort fighters scrambled to protect it from bombardment.

“I've had enough of this,” Sáclair hissed in irritation, “Launch all fighters. Weapons-free. Let's bring the fight to them. And Mr. Andrews! Give them a taste of their own medicine.”

The forward gun batteries belched atomic death into the asteroid belt, firing irregular staccato bursts of fury into the sensor ghosts. The ghosts fled, dropping low to avoid his assault, straight into the closing jaws of the Narn fighter wings.

It was over in seconds. However, the destruction of the enemy fighter wings was only a brief respite for their assault force. Larger shapes were approaching, cruisers less able to conceal themselves from the sensors of the Endless Bounty.

“Sir, the enemy ships will reach firing distance within two minutes,” Donat manipulated his quill across his data slate, “It seems that the Earth Alliance weren't able to distract all enemies from the jump-gate.”

“Best not to be here when they come then,” Sáclair whooped in amusement, “Drop our surprise and advance. This was not an unforeseen possibility.”

The enemy ships controlled the space both above and below the asteroid field, with the exception of a narrow spearhead of space controlled by the Earth Alliance too far to the planet's southern pole for them to feasibly reach. According to G'Kar, the asteroid field was considered to be too hazardous for any ship larger than a one man fighter to safely navigate, which was partly why the gate was put on the other side of it by the Sh'lassen. They could control the rate of enemy advance.

Just as well that the Empire made their ships of sterner stuff than the average Alliance cruiser. Trusting in the competence of the Narn to destroy the enemy fighters, Sáclair pushed forward, leading the cruisers through the asteroid field. The massive armored prow of the Endless Bounty smashed through the massive stones, shoving forward though the space debris with ease as he fired the forward lance batteries into the field.

The fleet filed down the narrow path, ships keeping close together to travel in the Endless Bounty's wake. Sáclair counted down from fifty, tapping his finger on the arm of his throne and watching the sensor map of the asteroid belt. As the last friendly cruiser darted to a safe distance from their egress into the asteroid field he flipped the switch to his left, activating a series of proximity mines loaded with vortex bombs.

His sensors flashed every warning imaginable as a massive section of space became engulfed in a maelstrom of extra-dimensional energies. Vortex bombs were not explosives per-se; they opened a hole into the warp that sucked in any unshielded fighters or men unfortunate enough to be within their radius for the few seconds it could be maintained. They were deviously simple to make: a warp engine large enough to be fitted into a fighter was set into critical overload and left on some sort of pressure trigger or proximity sensor. If they had them, larger ships might activate their hexegrammic wards in time to avoid destruction, but by the time the enemy ships made it back to the battlefield he'd be long gone.

The Endless Bounty tore through the inner ring of asteroids and into the orbit of Akdor, directly into a conflagration between the Earth Alliance and Sh'lassen rebel forces. Laughing like a madman, Sáclair pushed the ship's engines to their limits, passing the performance red line as he smashed the Bounty's prow through one of the oblong rebel ships, bursting it in half before spinning the Bounty in an upward pirouette and shouting, “Port batteries, full salvo in three, two, one, fire!”

Three ships were smashed into atoms under the massive salvo. The Earth Alliance Starfuries swung in through the atomic flames, using the cloak of the salvo to mask their advance on a fourth ship. Sáclair smiled contentedly as his consul chirruped eagerly, heralding an incoming transmission. He idly activated it, whooping with glee as the Centauri Primus wing shot past him and into the Sh'lassen rebel fleet.

The sour, almond-eyed face of Captain Xingjian popped up on his screen. The Alliance Captain growled in begrudging thanks, his slurred l's and r's exacerbated by his irritation. The automated translation servitor droned in it's seductive lilt, “What are you doing here 該死?”

“Charming as always Xingjian,” Sáclair smiled, twirling his fingers and firing a lance shot into a fighter wing that was straying too close to a Narn Cruiser for his liking. The fighters scattered. “A simple ‘thank you’ will suffice in future.”

“Answer the question,” Xingjian's eyes popped with fury even as his ship's lights flickered from the impact of enemy fire, “Or I will consider you an enemy combatant.”

The man was completely mental. Sáclair rolled his eyes in exasperation and wordlessly sent a message to the aft weapons batteries to target Xingjian's ships as a precautionary measure, “Captain, I'm here as part of the council relief fleet on behalf of the Non-Aligned Worlds. Now, if you’d be so kind as to remove your head from where you've so readily wedged it up your own ass and get back to fighting the enemy rather than wasting my time, I would take it kindness.”

Xingjiang's face boiled with apoplectic rage as Sáclair deactivated their transmission in disinterest. Xingjiang was under orders not to fire on Non-Aligned Worlds ships, and he could be trusted to obey it. If not, that was why the Emperor gave the Imperium void shields.

“Tactical report, Mr. Enzo.”

His second chewed his lip in thought, “Faust's fleet seems to have been driven back to the second moon of the planet by the Earth Alliance and Sh'lassen government forces, though by all reports they're regrouping rather than retreating. Early chatter is commenting that they're retrofitted military surplus from a recent war with shields and Faust's xenotech rather than proper Imperial military standard.”

“Well that's something at least,” Sáclair smiled in pleased surprise as a Centauri cruiser interposed itself between a damaged Narn ship and it's attacker, taking the brunt of the attack before a second Centauri Primus could destroy the rebel warship. “Is this rabble the entire rebel fleet?”

“Near as I can tell sir,” Donat sighed, “But I don't even pretend to have a complete understanding of the tactical situation, Faust's ECM makes me far from confident in the astropathic sensors.”

“Best to act sooner rather than later,” Sáclair remarked as he spun the Endless Bounty back towards the planet. Sáclair plowed forwards, aiming to punch through the rebel blockade and reach the Earth Alliance beachhead, “Donat, send a message to Hilder and the ground assault forces. We launch the Golan transports as soon as they're close enough to reach the planet's atmosphere safely. I don't want to spend too much time stationary in this maelstrom.”

Sáclair winced in pain as a lucky shot from an Sh'lassen rebel missile cruiser burst through the ship's forward shields, bursting against the ship's armored hull, “ I feel the need to register my abject displeasure with these Sh'lassen traitors in the most direct of terms.”

“Of course, milord. Lance batteries are ready on your command.”

---====----====----====-----====----===

Daul stood sat impassively in the Golan transport as it plummeted earthwards, counting down from a thousand as angry, black thunderclouds whipped past its tiny viewport. Not in the mood for the Lionhearts’ good-willed round of insults, he only half listened as they accused each other of the vilest of perversions and misdeeds. A nagging feeling of dread tugged at the back of his mind, a fear that this battle might be his undoing.

Before the battle of Belzafest, he'd been prepared to die. After losing so much at the hands of Faust, ending it all in a blaze of honor and duty had been perversely appealing. But there would be little profit in his death on the Sh'lassen world of Akdor, not unless Faust lay dead and on the ground. And there was a part of his heart, an honest part, that admitted he did not want to risk the lives of those who fought at his side. Well, those who fought at his side and weren't Vira'capac; the dour Kroot just utterly refused to die.

It perched on top of a Chimera with its talons wrapped around the gun barrel, entirely disinterested in sitting in a safety harness. After spending so much time in a cell on the Endless Bounty, it seemed that the xenos had developed an acute distaste for confinement. The Chimera's drivers, a pair pale-skinned Belzafesters, stared murderously at the Kroot as it luxuriated on top of their transport.

The entire surviving Belzafest PDF had volunteered for the mission, resulting in a bizarre situation where they'd had to have ship security guarding the transports to prevent soldiers stowing away to be part of the military engagement. Hatred still burned strong in the hearts of Belzafest for the destroyers of their ancestral homeland. Gaer Tiber's men would do their duty or die trying.

Daul's “personal guard” consisted of a half dozen men led by Gaer's most trusted Lieutenant Cynry Shan, a bellicose man of few words and deliberate actions. They were all men who'd lost their entire families to Faust, men who could be trusted to obey without question. And after months in the deserts of Belzafest, their skill was without question. They prayed in silence, ignoring the boisterous good humor of the Lionhearts.

“I can hear it,” whispered a soft feminine presence to his left. Susan Ivanova stared at the deck plates in concentration as though trying to see through them, “The warp - I can hear it... rumbling. Something is very wrong.”

“As can I,” Daul agreed, “Witchfire and sorcery is being used in great quantities on the planet. It leaves a stain upon the material world. It does not belong. Practice what I taught you. Clear your mind. Embrace the calm within. The hatred, the dying, and even the suffering: block them from your thoughts."

Susan closed her eyes and steadied her breathing, inhaling and exhaling whilst whispering words in the language of her pagan faith to focus herself. She was only a few weeks into her training but she'd advanced as far as Daul might have expected an apprentice to achieve ten years along the way thanks to the borrowed memories. She wasn't remotely close to his own talent, but she was a force to reckon with in her own right.

She hated him, to be sure, but they'd reached a functioning relationship out of necessity since he'd cut off the possibility of her returning to the Earth Alliance by publicly declaring her a telepath and ward of the Empire to the Narn and Centauri. Returning to the Alliance would mean arrest and capture by the Psi-corps to probe her for knowledge of Imperial sorcery, and she knew it.

“That's it,” Daul said soothingly, “Clear out your mind and find your place of calm. You control it. It does not control you.”

Cair warbled twice, twittering at their imminent arrival as the elephantine transport bucked upwards from anti-gravity pads meeting ground level. The Skitarii hefted an oversized bolt-gun with an extended barrel magazine and flexed sharp taloned fingers.

“Throne, Cairn,” Danzig eyed the array of odd devices around his belts, satchels, and bandolier, “You were never for lack of gear but even I can't think of a reason for some of that... Is that an Ulumethi plasma syphon? Where the devil did you even- you know what? I don't actually want to know.”

“Better prepared than deprived,” the dour Lieutenant Shan whispered, his voice raspy and high pitched through a breath mask.

“Masks on,” Daul ordered as the front doors to the transport opened, thick ash and soot billowing into the cool air of the transport, “Mount up.”

The collective mass of Lionhearts and Belzafester soldiers entered their respective Chimera transports. The clanking of boots on the light transport tanks mingled with the activating rumble of burning promethium engines. Daul climbed into the front Chimera of the column with Susan, Danzig, Carin, Vira’capac, and his personal guard of Belzafesters, surveying the men in approval.

The Inquisitor tapped the radio on his skull-like helmet to talk with the transport's pilot, “Report, soldier. How many of our forces made it to the planet?”

“Sir,” the eager Belzafester replied, “We lost two Golan transports to anti-aircraft fire, sections B and D, but G and R companies were forced to redirect to the southern ridge before unloading their packages.”

“To the pit of the Eye,” Daul swore angrily, “You mean that the Leman Russ tanks are two hundred miles off target?”

“At least,” The pilot agreed, “And their transport is grounded till they can patch a reactor leak. Our air support is coming but they've been delayed by Faust's aircraft to the north. Apparently they have to take out an earth to space laser battery before the Narn can land their tanks.”

“Of course they are.” Danzig sighed, massaging the frustration out of his temples in resigned irritation, “Are the rest of our transports on target, at least?”

“Yes sir,” The officer said before correcting himself, “Or at least... I believe so. We're having trouble communicating with anything longer range than twenty miles.”

“It will have to do.” sighed Shan in resignation, “The Earth Alliance will send them aid as soon as feasible to get them into position.”

“Just once, I would like to have the support forces in position beforehand,” Daul sighed, “Never mind. We're only ten miles from the Earth Alliance forward outpost. Begrudging our lack of artillery won't make more appear.”

Taking that as a queue, Cairn banged twice on the door to the cockpit, whistling sharply to the driver. With a lurch of motion the Chimera zoomed headlong into the Akdor badlands, bouncing its way over the rough terrain of the planet. Daul rocked forward uncomfortably against his harness at every rock and divot, to the point where he started to wonder if the Chimera's shocks had been intentionally tampered with out of spite.

“Throne almighty,” the voice of Sergei cracked across the radio from the end of the column, “Are we aiming for the worst terrain? Gazan is threatening to sew the eyes of our driver open so that he'll properly watch the road.”

“The road isn't ideal,” replied the irritated voice of Daul's chimera driver, “But if we go on any other paths our treads will get stuck in the ash piles or die when we ignite the methane geysers. Belzafest was a garden paradise compared to this hellhole. The planet itself is a minefield, and I don't like the idea of blowing up.”

“Inquisitor, you always do take me to the loveliest places,” Snorted Danzig in amusement, “Perhaps next time we can skip the foreplay and just light ourselves on fire.”

“That can still be arranged,” Daul replied dry amusement as they hit another bump, yanking him in his chair uncomfortably, “Throne almighty that's uncomfortable.”

The Kroot crooned in agreement. Vira'capac licked his left eyeball with his tongue nervously as he preened himself, softly muttering in his own singsong language. The constant motion irritated the Kroot more than anyone else, doubtlessly agitating the gas bladder between the creature's nose and lungs which it used to filter out toxins.

The chain of Chimeras jerked and jostled their way across the inhospitable Akdor landscape, driving across rocky outcroppings and past deep ravines. One of the chimeras turned too soon and disturbed an underground pocket of methane, bursting it and flinging the transport head over heels into a pool of chemical runoff. Daul ordered the vox casters to be switched to another channel to save them from having to listen to the Lionhearts’ agonized final screams before giving the order to continue their march.

It was just as well that Danzig decided to do so, apparently the forward scout sentinels had their vox units set to two units above what they were supposed to be broadcasting. The Lionheart growled in irritation, "Throne, has anyone read the void-born mission parameters beyond the summary? It's a miracle they had their vox units active at all."

"I wouldn't blame them," Shan intoned in his raspy near whisper, smoothing his yellow and black checkered tunic. He took special care to brush off the patch embroidered with Daul's personal crest, Shan's symbol of fealty. "The magnetic rock formations will be paying hell with our equipment. We were equipped for the climate of Belzafest, not Akdor. We're ruggedized and air tight, but the magnetic interference of Belzafest was not as pronounced. Communication will be shorter ranged than we'd hoped."

"We're just going to have to operate on the assumption that the individual units reach their intended positions by the time we hit the rendezvous point," Daul sighed in exasperation, "The military aid of our allies ought to compensate for the delays, Emperor willing. They're no Adeptus Astrates, but they'll have to do."

"You have several thousand ground-pounders backed up by tanks and air support. They're as good or better than whatever else is out there," Commander Ivanova interjected irritatedly, "And as good as any other military in service."

Cain tweeted incredulously, eying Susan with a mix of confusion and bemused interest as he scratched his forehead with a long metal talon.

Daul couldn't help himself, he burst into a fit of giggles that drove the commander into frigid silence. Taking a moment to compose himself and sending a minor psychic suggestion to the other soldiers to stifle their own sniggers, he addressed the commander, "Commander Ivanova, the Adeptus Astartes are our…. specialty soldiers. They’re monastic warrior orders, bred specifically for the purposes of excelling at warfare. I'm certain that the "Gropos" are admirable soldiersm but the Space Marines are… more than that. An individual Space Marine is equal to any ten of the Lionhearts, and that is being generous."

"You can't be…" the commander trailed off, her eyes glazing over slightly in borrowed memory. She blinked twice to reorient herself before continuing, "Ok, so you are serious. But we don't have them and the ground pounders will do the job. They're good at what they do."

"We shall certainly see," Daul replied indecisively, "Faust will give them more than ample chances."

The transport echoed slightly with the sound of small arms fire against the hull as the driver shouted orders to the gunner. The multi-laser turret swiveled on its axis with a grinding of shifting gears and the hiss of pneumatic pistons, and the echoing buzz-crack of a dozen high powered streams of weaponized energy seared some unseen target. A brilliant burst of flame flashed through the tiny slitted view ports on the transport's sides, braying screams of agony howling in time with the blast.

"All clear," chimed the driver over the intercom before kicking the transport back into gear, "Be on the lookout. Sh'lassen rebel forces are setting ambushes along the path."

Danzig checked the sights on his hot-shot lasrifle, fiddling with the beam transparency. "ETA to target?"

"Target is imminent," replied the driver, "Forward outpost in five, four, three, two, one, mark."

The Chimera rounded a bend in the magnetic rock formations and turned into a formation of Earth Alliance tanks. The angular war machines’ powerful laser cannons targeted the Chimera even as they hailed requesting the Imperials identify themselves.

Taking the encrypted vox offered to him by Cairn Daul replied with the identification code, fumbling through the Interlac words, "Whiskey, eagle, eagle, two, delta, two, seven, bravo, one, five."

A tired but friendly voice replied over the vox channel, "Glad to have you here, Inquisitor. We could use all the help we could get. General Franklin is waiting for you on the western ridge in the motor pool."

"Very well," Daul replied, nodding to the driver. The Chimera lumbered along past the massive tanks, giving Daul a clear view of them through the tiny window of transparent plastisteel. He let out a low impressed whistle at the sheer mass of them, easily twice the size of a leman russ with a gun to match. It hovered on powerful antigrav struts, nimbly navigating the rocky terrain as though it were open ground.

"Those are new model Odin and Loki," Susan remarked in surprise, "I didn't know that they'd gotten those in service yet."

"Not too shabby," Danzig commented in earnest, "Not projectile weapons I presume?"

"A dumbed down of the plasma cannons used by warships, it packs a heck of a punch," Susan smiled wistfully, prompting Daul to suspect that she'd very much like to fire one. Cairn was veritably watering at the mouth at the new technologies, his facial tentacles frenziedly drawing the machines for future reference.

The Earth Alliance was primitive in many respects, but confusingly advanced in many others. How could a society so backward in even the most basic understanding of both shielding and psychic technologies have managed to develop such advanced anti-gravity and plasma weaponries? It veritably boggled the mind.

The Chimera shuddered to a halt, its wide door yawning outwards and into a frenzied mass of black-armored marines scuttling around the motor pool in blind purpose. Long necked combat hovercraft landed for just long enough to disgorge the wounded and load a fresh load of soldiers destined for the meat grinder.

Dozens of men bearing wounds from familiar imperial las weaponry as well as the deep tooth and claw marks of half-breed savagery lay on cots. A mess of white coated medics did what they could to save the wounded and comfort the dying, though more came with every trip of the flying transports.

"Inquisitor," A domineering, bespectacled black man barked across the mass of men. Though he was several yards from the Imperials somehow his voice managed to carry across ocean of human suffering without any loss of clarity or absolute authority, "Over here."

It wasn't the most impressive command station Daul had ever seen, certainly no Imperial general would be so gauche as to arrive at a battlefield without at least a proper tent and serving staff, but what the Alliance lacked in grandeur it made up in practicality. A rather meager steel fold out table with an aging map and a small hololithic projector displayed the relative locations of enemy and allied positions, standing as the centerpiece to haphazard piles of tactical printouts and early battle reports. The sour-faced general Franklin brandished these reports at his underlings, barking harsh commands with the absolute expectation that they would be followed out.

Daul approached and bowed, interlocking his hands in the symbol of the Aquilla, “General Franklin.”

“Inquisitor Daul Hilder,” replied the General placidly before his eyes settled on Susan and an edge of venom seeped into his voice, “The former Commander Ivanova.”

“Sir?” The Commander blinked as though slapped.

“I'm well aware of your rising status in the Empire Miss Ivanova.” He growled in irritation, “Telepaths cannot serve as an officer of Earthforce, certainly not telepaths who've defected. Consider it an act of mercy that I don't arrest you this instant on behalf of the Psi-corps because I need the Inquisitor's expertise -and don't think for a second an arrest isn't damn tempting.”

“Sir I've done nothing wrong,” The commander pleaded, a look of abject horror on her face, “I'm in-” Susan stopped mid sentence in shock when the General slapped his palm on the table and stared her in the eyes with a look of indomitable resolve. Even as she sputtered trying to explain herself, he wouldn't even begin to listen to her insistent affirmations of innocence.

“Miss Ivanova, it is in your best interests for you to close your mouth this instant. Settling what you did or did not do is a job for the Psi-corps and a board of inquiry if and when you decide to report back to Babylon 5 where you are currently AWOL. And a General hasn't got time for a derelict soldier,” It was cruel of Daul to have forwarded a receipt of the commanders amnesty and new role in Imperial government to the Earth Alliance prior to their departure via Centauri diplomatic channels, but the woman couldn't properly evolve into her new role as long as the hope of returning to her former position abided. Yet another wound inflicted upon his apprentice for her own benefit; she would one day come to appreciate the benefits of what he'd done for her. Not in this century, perhaps, but she would eventually.

General Franklin pulled the stomach of his uniform forwards and straightened his spectacles, tossing a still image across the table towards the inquisitor, “Now Inquisitor, what the devil am I dealing with?”

The image showed a corpse of a bloated and distended creature, that might have been a man if not for its mawkish gait or the thick masses of bony crests and thick tentacles across it' massive mottled black-and-grey flesh. A half breed of Faust's working, to be sure.

Daul cleared his throat. “Nightmares, General. You're fighting monsters and nightmares. They are not creatures of flesh and blood to be reasoned with, they're weapons created with an inscrutable and malevolent purpose.”

“Well, I've got a hundred and fifty miles of trench warfare and bunkers full of the fraggers between us and the Sh'lassen rebels at Matok. We can't get anything airborne close enough to make a significant difference in our advance without passing one of the damned anti-aircraft platforms in the fortress or the methane geysers that are just as bad. The best we've been able to do- General xny'Yih? Can you come over here for a moment?” The bespectacled man waved to a hooded figure some twelve feet away chatting with a number of other hooded men. It hobbled forward as the General continued, “The best we've been able to do is just slow the rate of attrition. The black devils are dug in tight.”

The hooded figure pulled back his cowl to reveal the goat-like face of a Sh'lassen man. The creature swiveled its unnerving golden eyes to Daul and chattered in a braying sneer of annoyance, “The heretics are defiling the place of the Old Gods, the teachings of our forefathers and the only thing standing between us and reclaiming the truth that is ours are these... these... beasts!”

The irony of calling another species a beast was apparently lost upon the harsh voiced longhorn. It stamped its bipedal hooves and pulled at a thick rope of golden fibers, shaking its head in unmistakable exasperation. Daul bowled enough to be respectful, but not so much as to imply obsolescence, “You are of the Triumvirate, I presume.”

“General xny'Yih,” Confirmed the bestial humanoid, “ I've been leading the siege of Matok these past two years to reclaim the truth that belongs to all.”

“What truth?” probed the Commander.

The beast man fixed her with his unnerving gaze, eyes narrowed in irritation, “If I knew it, I wouldn't need to waste two years watching men die. The rebels claim it and our ancestral fortress to be theirs and theirs alone. 'We are not ready' bah. Who are they to judge who may know the nameless' brilliance in battling the nightmares of old.”

“Faust doesn't send his troops en-masse somewhere unless there is something of legitimate value to be taken. Whatever it is that he wants, we cannot allow him to have it. Faust is a war criminal worse than any you've ever seen,” Balefire flickered around Daul in his anger, “He must not succeed.”

“Precisely what is he guilty of doing in the Imperium?” Probed General Franklin in expectant curiosity as he eyed the red shapes moving around the hololithic map. Waves of green flickered into and out of view in the haze of red.

“Much,” whispered Shan in a voice of horrible calm, “He is guilty of murder, torture, slavery, genocide, and the destruction of the Belzafest colony, as well as countless others for well over a century.”

“He destroyed a city?” General Franklin interjected in disbelief.

“Belzafest was a planet,” corrected Daul, “Whatever his goal is here, we must ensure he does not succeed. The crimes on Belzafest were some of his lesser evils. Entire planetary populations have been put to death for fear his half-breeds might poison off-worlders.”

“We've been doing what we can to stop infections. The venomous stinger's entry wound is quite distinctive, but short of amputating the limb we haven't been able to find a way of curing the poison without killing the soldier,” brayed the Sh'lassen general in anger, “But communication with the frontline soldiers is so bad that it's often too late to do anything other than shoot the poor bastard before he goes mad from the venom.”

“I was referring to a more metaphorical poison,” Daul cleared his throat uncomfortably, “The half-breeds are male... they favor the use of other sentient species females for incubating their young. The woman is forcibly implanted with around a dozen pups. The process is slow, so that the mother can attempt to flee back to safety and spread the half-breeds to a new population center they do not yet control.The mother becomes their first meal after they chew their way out. I rather thought it might have come up before now without me needing to say...”

“We do not send our females to war,” brayed xny'Yih in preoccupation, “So it would not have. It may soon become problematic however.”

General Franklin shot one of his underlings a worried look, “Lieutenant Davis, issue an immediate warning to all soldiers. Tell them exactly what the Inquisitor just told me, word for word. Lets not take any chances. And issue an order not to let them take POWs under any circumstances.”

“Easier said than done,” Susan rejoined, puckering her lips inward in shame at the Generals spiteful glare.

The General waited a full minute, staring at her in uncomfortable silence before continuing as though the Commander had never spoken. “They've got the whole inner valley under their control. Environmental conditions prevent air support, so we're going to have to do this one the old fashioned way. Even our air support can't safely operate higher than about thirty stories up. The Narn and Centauri are massing for a combined assault on the northern front with General Andre's troops so that we can cut them off from the west and force them to retreat into the rebel artillery. Your Imperial vehicles are going to need to spearhead that western assault.”

“Faust will have group of a non-half breeds guiding the war effort,” Daul tapped the thickest mass of red on the map, “If we can get to them and kill their leaders we should be able to mop up the remaining troops with relative ease. They're bred for ferocity, not cleverness.”

“I will have a guide assigned to you to guide you through the terrain,” hawed the Sh'lassen general, “There are still a few left who managed to survive the loss of our forward lines who should know some of the secret paths and safe havens.”

“Incoming!” screamed a frenzied ensign as she and everyone else in the encampment dropped to the ground. A whistling thrum sung through the air as an explosive shell collided with the sooty earth half a mile away from where Daul stood, kicking up a brilliant explosive burst of flame and debris. The Inquisitor winced and thumbed the controls to his helmet's audio feed, drowning out the screams of pain from distant soldiers.

Cairn aided Daul in rising to his feet, irritatedly brushing off his Talbard with a brush he'd produced from Throne alone knew were. Daul shoved the brush away in exasperation and chided him in Gothic, “Cairn, the blessed thing will be soaked in blood and all manner of horrible things before the day is through. A bit of soot won't do any more damage.”

His attendant crossed his arms and eyed him irritatedly, the brush quirked to the side and chirruping irritatedly as though to say “well you go and wash it then why don't you?” Putting the sarcastic Skitarii from his mind, he lifted his apprentice to her feet, “Up you get, Commander Ivanova. We haven't got all day.”

“They've moved their artillery closer than your map would indicate,” Danzig flipped up from where he lay back to the ground with acrobatic ease, his wide silk pants flaring over his combat armor, “Or they have equipment that's better than you reported.”

“Assume the latter,” Vira'capac crooned in irritation, “Man things never get better answer. Worse always than plans. Highly irritating that Vira'capac has not died yet. Perhaps get lucky this time. Perhaps not.”

“General.” A woman's voice cracked across the relative silence like a whip, preceding the arrival of a lean woman of dark completion. Her name was just visible behind the long dreadlocks that hung down her uniform, Tonya Wallace. Precisely what rank ISN indicated was lost upon Daul but the brevity and familiarity with which she treated the General left no doubt of her importance. The word “reporter” echoed in his mind vaguely, though it' meaning found no purchase in the Gothic language, “General, I want to know why I haven't been assigned to a military unit yet. I'm supposed to be reporting from the front lines.”

“Miss Wallace,” replied the General in a tone of exhausted repetition, as though having an argument he'd long ago tired of fighting, “The situation is far more volatile than we initially anticipated. Once we have a more solid foothold into the – What are they called Inquisitor?”
“The proper name would be xenodeamonia hälféraza Knyttneve, but 'half-breed' is more than sufficient,” Daul replied, eyeing the silver hovering disks that floated around the woman and wondering as to their purpose.

“Lord Almighty, that is a mouthful,” The General shook his head, “The half-breeds are a lot tougher and more dangerous than we realized.”

“The initial report I got from the Sh'lassen government said that 'the bowels of hell have yawned open to disgorge a mass of the most horrendous creatures from the time of nightmares when death first touched the land.' Was that insufficiently descriptive?” She was a noble of notable standing to be able to afford that sort of device and talk to a general disrespectfully without fear of reprisal. Perhaps he could use this to his advantage.

“If the Lady Wallace desires she could accompany our party,” Daul interjected before the General could open his mouth and say something foolish to the noblewoman, “Provided that she is willing to accept the dangers I face at the forefront.”

Susan stared at Daul in utter disbelief before making a soft “oh” of comprehension with her lips and bursting into a fit of silent giggles. Ivanova really was an odd woman at times. Daul suspected it might be a long term side effect of the combined memories though he couldn't be sure. Ignoring her strange behavior he continued, “The potential for fatal harm is great, but if you are willing to shoulder the risk then you may come.”

The noblewoman veritably salivated at the opportunity, shooting a wry glance at the Alliance general. “Yes, yes that would be entirely OK with me!”

“I can't stop you Miss Wallace,” The General replied irritatedly, covering his ears as another shell burst some sixty yards from the Alliance forward outpost, “But you're going to have to go now. Inquisitor we need to start pressing forward towards the west sooner than I'd planned. If we don't get rid of that damned artillery we're going to lose the forward momentum and they'll have time to regroup.”

“Well we can't very well have that,” Daul nodded looked down at the hololithic display and its sea of red waving around the great spire of Matok. He laughed sharply and clutched the ethereal image in his augmentic fist, red images distorting around the ivory digits, “Cairn, I do believe that it's time for us to pay a visit to our old friends and voice our displeasure.”

The Skitarii growled in agreement, flexing its talons in anticipation of the hunt to come.


Last edited by Todeswind on 2013-01-14 02:53am, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-01-14 12:05am
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Magos Adept Tuul swore in irritation as an electrified cable came loose from the ceiling and crashed down across the gangway, crushing a servitor into a pile of messy gore and offal. The sizzling meat of the servitor splashed wetly across his face and optics, briefly obscuring his vision.

It was times like these that he was grateful to have removed his digestive system. Now was no time for nausea.

“I want the primary reactor back online! I don't care what you have to do, the auxillaries can't compensate for the power drop for much longer!” Tuul bellowed over the loudspeaker, “And get a repair team over to deck twelve to fix the carbon dioxide scrubbers before the crew suffocates.”

Tuul grabbed the power cable in the arm of his servo harness, enjoying the tingling sensation of 50,000 volts arcing across his insulated limbs. He cackled madly to himself as he shoved the power line into a junction point, twisting it in before forcing a rudimentary seal with ferrocrete epoxy. It wouldn't last the battle, but it ought to hold out until Enginseers could manage a more permanent repair.

“Sir,” a red robed Enginseer said as he hopped over the liquified servitor, holding out a data slate at arm's length so as not to stand in any of the puddles, “The Lord Sáclair needs us to increase the power output of the starboard Y-axis thrusters by ten percent to offset the main guns. We're getting too much lateral drag from gunfire.”

“Then fix it, why don't you? Take a maintenance team to the thrusters and recalibrate the power couplings,” Tuul eyed the power readouts on the data slate anxiously, “And get Enginseer Sven down to deck 17. Something has to be wrong with the power readouts - it's showing 100% efficiency in the shield generators.”

Nothing ever ran at 100% efficiency, especially not mid-battle. How in the hell had Kerrigan made this look so effortless? She'd never been caught short of breath; even when she'd had to surrender she'd apparently done it with grace and poise. Perhaps it had something to do with being a woman. There was at least correlative data to suggest a link between being more collected in a crisis and being female.

If he survived he'd have to consider increasing the ratio of estrogen in his remaining biological components to see if it boosted performance, “Enginseer Throm, what in the hell are you trying to do? Blow up the ship? Don't try to reactivate the reactor till after you've flushed the excess radiation.”

Tuul ducked under a mess of cables and grabbed hold of a narrow ladder, glad for his augmentic fingers as the ship bucked to the left. His mechanical digits held fast to the ladder as the rest of his considerable mass swung head over heels off the platform and into open air.

His mechandrites whipped out, subconsciously lacing themselves around the ladder to prevent him from plummeting down the mile-deep chasm of the main engineering bay.

“Omnissiah almighty!” Tuul swore as he spoke to the ship, “Keep together girl. Come on then, keep together for me. You've lasted this long, just go a bit longer girl.”

The machine spirit of the Endless Bounty was tenacious. She would likely keep on going long after all the rest of her crew were just ashes in space, but Tull was in no hurry to be those ashes. He righted himself on the ladder, climbing his way down to the ship's warp engines. It was not until the soles of his feet echoed on the floor with a satisfying click of magnetic soles on deck plates that he let go of the ladder.

It would slow his strides considerably, but maintaining a veneer of calm and poise during a crisis situation would calm his Enginseers. After all, if their Magos was calm and composed, then there was nothing to worry about. Perhaps that explained Kerrigan’s poise and gracefulness; it was a practiced veneer of calm. It was too much to consider right now, he reminded himself. He would compare the variables when the ship wasn’t in mortal peril.

It was a problem with having as spacious and quick-acting of an augmentic brain as he had. The enhanced cogitators and memory engrams within his mind left him prone to bouts of manic thinking and sidetracked trails of logic. If he had time later he would implant a second augmentic brain attached to his first one, so that he could allow himself to continue two trains of thought at once, perhaps even three. Though perhaps that would be no less distracting – still worth a try, though.

He winced in pain as the ship bucked again. His legs, attached firmly to the floor, yanked hard where bone met augmentic. Glad that he could silence his vox caster, Tuul howled in silent pain within his head as nerves stretched and pinched from the strain. Vestigial remnants of ear ducts watering behind his optics, Tuul walked down into the tiny room that sat on top of the Warp engines.

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot - he forced his legs to continue past the pain. The pain of the flesh was fleeting, and hardly worth his time. Any organic matter that was too damaged to be repaired could always be replaced. The flesh was weak, the machine was strong.

He continued down the unmarked corridor ten paces before reaching a translucent barrier of purple energy: a void shield. Tuul irritatedly typed the access runes to deactivate the barrier before walking through. With a hiss of crackling ozone, Tuul idly realized that walking even a second slower would have severed a mechandrite. He would have to remember to recalibrate that; it was an unrealistic entry time.

Then again, there was no hurry to have Enginseers in this particular room. The hyperspace engines were too dangerous and too critical to entrust in the hands of anyone less qualified than a Magos. Not that it stopped the Navigators from poking their noses into where they did not belong.

“Speak of the devil,” Tuul muttered to himself before activating his voice box, “Navigator Calven, this is not a safe place to be right now. I need you to return to your designated safe zone until the battle is over.”

“Magos Tuul. If I am not safe standing on top of the ship’s Warp-engines, then precisely where am I safe?” The skeletally thin Navigator queried as he ran his fingers over the ornate machinery of the machine.

Tuul didn't really have an answer to that. Any weapon powerful enough to breach the bulkheads and additional void-shields around the warp-engine was strong enough to destroy the ship outright. “I still have to ask you to leave, Navigator. I cannot be liable for your safety.”

“Magos, it is precisely because of the danger to all of us that I come to you now. It is the only time that I can be positive that we will not be interrupted.” The Navigator's voice lacked its usual haughtiness, sounding lost more than arrogantly superior. “What I tell you can only be said in secret.”

“You've got five minutes Navigator,” Tuul sighed as he approached the hyperspace engines to plug in his handheld cogitator, “That's how long it will take to download the data core. I can't spare more than that without putting the ship at risk.”

“Time,” The Navigator snorted in amusement, pulling out his snuff box before stowing it back in his pocket as though having reconsidered it. “That is the issue, isn't it?”

“Four minutes fifty five seconds,” Tuul examined the power to weight ratio of the hyperspace mass exchange, trying to figure out if there was a way to improve the real-space to hyperspace conversion.

“Magos, our orders are secretive by design. For the good of humanity we keep certain knowledge secret, for fear of the harm that might be done were it to be given to the wrong people. We guard our knowledge jealously, so that it cannot be used against us. But some knowledge is too dangerous to be kept, and some secrets are not worth the price we pay,” the Navigator wrung his hands fearfully, “Some answers come to light no matter what we do.”

Tuul looked up from his cogitator. The houses of Navigators were obsessive in their secrecy, second only to the Ordos Malleus of the Inquisition in their secret knowledge of warp-craft. They were sorcerers well-versed in a craft that none save their carefully honed blood lines could master.

Navigator Calven rubbed his hands together nervously. “Navigator Illrich does not believe that this should become common knowledge. I disagree. However, he has forbidden me from revealing it to anyone oath bound to the Inquisitor or Sáclair.”

“Then why even bother –“ Tuul shook his head in surprise as it hit him, “Omnisisah above, I'm not actually bound to either of them, am I? My pledge of loyalty is to Kerrigan, who is no longer bound to Sáclair and was never bound to Hilder.”

“A technicality, but not a breach of my oath.” The Navigator nodded. “For my safety, however, I will request an oath of secrecy from you to never reveal my part in this.”

“You have it,” Tuul nodded.

“Magos, tell me. What do you know of the potential chronological side effects of warp travel? Time travel, if you prefer.”

Tuul held up his finger in a gesture for quiet and activated his long-range communicator, “Enginseer Sven, I need you to oversee repairs for the foreseeable future. I've encountered an unusual fluctuation in the Hyperspace engines that I will need to see to personally.”

He looked up at Calven, “Congratulations Navigator. You have my undivided attention.”

--==---==---==---==---==---==---===---=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

It was official. Once this report hit the air Tonya was going to win every damn award for journalism the Earth Alliance could give. She was going to boost the network ratings by twenty points just by being able to show an interview with the Inquisitor. Live footage of Imperial soldiers engaging in active warfare? Forget about it.

It was difficult to martian the proper decorum and dignity that was expected from a war reporter when she was just so giddy about the opportunity that was sitting in front of her on a silver platter.

Her producer was going to have a heart attack when she sent him this footage. She could taste an anchorwoman job just around the bend. At this point the disgraced Earthforce Commander Ivanova was just the icing on the cake.

The body armor the Imperials had insisted she wear was horribly uncomfortable, but Inquisitor Hilder had eyed her civilian issue flak armor once before sniffing in disgust and pulling a chest plate emblazoned with the double-headed eagle of the Imperium out a cargo container.

“If you're going to go into battle unarmed, at least have the common sense to not go unarmored,” he'd grumbled contemptuously.

He did not, she noticed, force a similar armored vest upon their guide V'cath. The hoary goat-man was left more or less to his own devices with the avian Kroot Hunter. The two aliens seemed content to just stare at each other with their unnerving yellow eyes, growling and braying territorially.

The deliciously handsome Colonel Danzig had helped her put the armor on, flashing her a haggard but handsome smile and saying a couple of heart-meltingly flirtatious words in the Imperial language. If the two of them survived this battle, she planned to see if he was just as tan beneath the crimson silk robes. She smiled wickedly to herself; it didn't seem like the Colonel would take much convincing if she had the opportunity.

OK, it was a glib thing to be thinking about before going into a warzone, but after the fifteenth or twentieth one you went to it got sort of hard to be serious any more. Yes, they were driving through the endless ash wastes of Matok, and yes they were heading for almost certain death in the jaws of the half-breed war machine, but damn was this going to make a great story.

Figuring that it was best to stick with the English-speaking portion of the people in the transport, Tonya smiled and spoke to the Inquisitor. “Inquisitor Hilder, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to speak with you.”

“You were determined to reach the front lines. I had space in my Chimera. It seemed an adequate exchange,” the Inquisitor paid mild attention to her as he pulled out a black stone box and set it in the middle of the transport. Pressing a button in its center, he activated a holographic overlay of the battlefields. It was a splotchy and irregular map, but it vaguely showed the position of the Imperial forces as they weaved their way towards the rebel fortress.

“Exploratoribus marunong ügyesen,” The swarthy Colonel pointed to a column of the bipedal imperial walkers. He tapped the lead walker and the hologram shimmered, shifting to a first-person view from the perspective of the walker.

A hundred miles of trenches stretched out into the distance, carrion piles of Sh'lassen corpses shoved into whatever gaps could not be filled with sandbags. The vague profiles of several alien war machines poked out from concealed positions and camouflaged netting, pointing angular weapons she vaguely remembered from history vids.

“Dilgar suppression tanks,” Commander Ivanova's brow rose in abject shock, “Where in the hell did they get those? I've never seen one outside of a museum.”

“Not just the tanks,” brayed V'clath as he scratched a rough bit of skin behind his horns, “Cat-men too. Nasty as the half-breeds, twice as mean.”

“But they're dead!” Tonya asserted in confusion. A whole race did not just walk away from a supernova. “The entire system is a black hole.”

“Dilgar?” Queried the bird like Kroot warrior in a crooningly hopeful tone. “Tell Vira'capac man thing, what is Dilgar?”

“They're a feline predatory species, and tried to conquer the galaxy thirty years ago. But they're extinct. They all died when their sun went supernova.” The Commander shook her head incredulously, “But that thing looks like it just rolled out from the factory.”

The goat man hawed in amusement, “Give up on impossible. Impossible stopped when demons came to Akdor. Now there is only possible and true.”

“Let's see how well these ghost tanks stand up to Imperial weaponry.” The Inquisitor grunted irritatedly before tapping the side of his golden skull-like helmet to its hidden transponder, “Ignem in di mae Panzer.”

A brilliant lance of laser fire shot out from the muzzle of the walker's gun. With a thunderous burst of exploding munition the Dilgar war machine ceased to be. Small arms laser fire cracked across the expanse of the dunes, scourging the area around the walker till a missile whistled its way across. The camera blurred as the driver hurriedly repositioned his vehicle, trying to avoid the explosive round.

The image disappeared as the interference grew to be too much for the holographic interface to keep up with. A man in yellow and black heraldry yelled into his microphone agitatedly, “Ioannem? Estis vos lebendig? Estis vos lebendig? Ioannem!”

“Likey dead,” Hemmed the Sh'lassen with goatish irritation. “Radio only gives away our position. Foolish.”

“Our communications channels are highly scrambled,” the Inquisitor replied tersely, “That is highly unlikely.”

“Best not to rely on what is likely,” The goat-man jutted out his lower jaw pensively clicking his teeth together, chewing on a bit of cud stored in his cheek, “Usually disappointing.”

The Kroot whistled in agreement, “Why not have more clever goat things with Vira'capac? Only stupid pink man things thinking foolish thoughts.”

A pregnant moment passed as the tank rumbled forwards before a timid and tired voice of the walker commander replied, “Ja. Ich is libendig. Si plures que wir dachten.”

“Of course there are more of them than we planned. At least they took no casualties,” sighed Commander Ivanova before replying into her own headset in flawless Gothic, “Deus Rex Imperator shültz.”

“You've learned the Imperial language already?” Tonya asked in astonishment. The Earthforce linguistics department was only now beginning to understand the thousand dialects of the insanely complicated Imperial language. It was being described jokingly as “Esperanto as designed by Satan” due to its billions of homonym words without any visible standards of either grammar or conjugation.

“She wouldn't be a particularly useful apprentice if she couldn't understand the language,” the Inquisitor replied as he examined an ornate pistol strapped to the wrist of his mechanical arm. It glowed slightly with the discharge of ambient energy.

“It's why he kidnapped me. I accidentally looked into his mind,” Susan growled in a voice of deadpan calm. “I know too much.”

“Must you continue to bring that up?” the Inquisitor sighed in a tone of irritated repetition. “This is going to be a tedious apprenticeship if every conversation we have is going to revolve around how I recruited you.”

“Recruited me?” the Commander screeched, “You drugged me, stripped me naked, pierced my nipples and about ten other places I didn't even know could be pierced, broke my arms and legs, then carried me to your ship in a sack! How in the hell was that a recruitment?”

“Impressed into service, if you prefer. It was a far sight kinder than what your Psi-corps does to those with unique talents. The refugees that the ship's sanctioned psykers have begun training were tortured in ways that would shame the Arch-confessor Kyrnov.” The Inquisitor shuddered visibly, “What sort of sociopath puts a twelve year old girl in a forced breeding program?”

So many questions were bouncing around Tonya's head she could hardly string them together. The Commander had been kidnapped? The Psi-corps had a secret underage breeding program? Hell she hardly needed to ask any questions, the Imperials were so alarmingly open with information. Say what you would about the Imperium of Man, but they took freedom of information to a whole new level.

“Probably the same sort of sociopaths that butcher dozens of women to heal their dead friend,” Susan shuddered in disgust. “The Imperium doesn’t have a monopoly on morality.”

“Rik no bad,” Growled Danzig in an irritated patois, “Sick in head. Not fault. Drugs wrong for head.”

“Yes, the actions of Brother Helit were tragic but unavoidable considering the unstable and often hallucinogenic effects of improper anti-agapic use,” The Inquisitor sighed morosely, “If we'd only known, we might have helped him.”

Anti-agapic. Now that was a word Tonya knew. The war criminal Deathwalker had shown up on Babylon 5 one year prior, claiming to have discovered the ultimate anti-agapic. A drug to cure all disease and stop all aging, “I'm sorry Inquisitor, but did I hear you correctly: the Imperium has access to anti-agapic technology?”

“Yes, we can extend our lives by hundreds, sometimes thousands of years with regular treatments,” the Inquisitor waved of the question disinterestedly as he looked at his chronometer. “Pervenimus erreichen ad terminum fünf Minuten. Deus Rex Imperator shültz!”

“Deus Rex Imperator shültz!” replied the collected Imperials in the transport. Tonya repeated the phrase, not wanting to feel left out. Judging by the approving nod from the Inquisitor, it had been the correct choice.

However, when the Colonel spoke into his communicator it was not in the alien tones of High Gothic. He spoke but an altogether more familiar and astonishing language: “OK, men, we're moving into the battlefield. No slip ups. I want this by the book. We all go in and we all come home. For Sáclair and the Empire, God willing!”

“You speak Arabic?” Tonya asked in confusion. “Why the heck would you learn to speak Arabic?” She realized a moment later that she’d asked in Arabic when many of the Imperial soldiers looked up at her in shocked surprise.

Colonel Danzig looked at her as though his pet cat had just burst into song before slack-jawedly saying, “You... you speak the ancient words of my ancestors? The words of the Damascans long past?”

Tonya realized that nine highly-armed people were all looking at her with varying levels of awe and horror. She might as well have taken off her clothes for all the fuss it caused. She looked at Susan, “It's just Arabic. What's the big deal?”

“The ‘big deal,’ Miss Wallace,” said the Inquisitor in a voice of near-reverent calm. “is that we now know unequivocally that your people come from a common history to our own. There can be no doubt.”

“Not to mention that it pretty much shoots ten thousand years of Lionheart military tradition of speaking in Arabic as a secret language to hell and back,” Susan sighed. “Sorry, Danzig. I wish I’d realized it sooner.”

“Is not your faults,” Danzig replied in English before waggling his eyebrows at Tonya and speaking in Arabic, “And at worst you and I will get to know each other better once this is over. I do not need to speak your language to read your body.”

Tonya felt red creeping into her face as the tank slowed to a halt, the harsh crack of ozone echoing in time with the deep booming bursts of explosive projectiles fired by their chimera transport.

“Stick close to me,” the Colonel whispered, “and you might survive to see tomorrow.”

It was only as she followed her companions out the back of their tank and into the open air that Tonya really began to appreciate the gravity of what she'd signed on for. When the Inquisitor said that he intended to “spearhead” the assault on the half-breed troops, he meant it literally rather than figuratively.

She ducked in terror as an explosive round collided with their transport, gutting it and annihilating the spot where she'd been sitting not ten seconds prior. A razor sharp bit of shrapnel whizzed past her face, slicing her earlobe painfully. Her yelp of pain was silenced by Danzig clapping her breathing mask over her face with a barked command of, “Silence, woman, or they'll hear you.”

The Imperial troops advanced down into the trenches, silently slinking along the trenches as their transports rumbled along the open battlefield. The massive cyborg grabbed her by the nape of the neck and carried her into the trench bodily when she couldn't convince her legs to move forward out of fear. Dear God, why had she thought this was going to be a good idea?

She followed Commander Ivanova as the woman worked her way through the three inch-deep layer of black sludge, only barely able to stand the constant smell of methane from the geysers erupting all around them. Her camera, painted black so as not to give away their position, hovered unhelpfully above her as it filmed her humiliating trudge through the mire.

The massive cyborg loomed over her, propelling itself forward with its mechanical tentacles inches above her body. She resented its presence until the first shell burst next to the trench, shrapnel and burning napalm flying in all directions. The igneous projectiles reflected off of some sort of personal energy field, protecting her from injury or death.

She stuck closer to the cyborg after that, not giving the remotest shit how bad the cyborg smelled or how hideous it was. As long as she got to live, it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen.

The Imperial paused briefly at an intersection, waiting patiently. One minute, then two, then three, and on and on they waited. At ten minutes of silently crouching in a trench and listening to gunfire Tonya was about ready to scream when a howling screech of incoming artillery drowned out anything she might have said. She scrunched her eyes closed and huddled beneath the Cyborg, clutching his chest for protection as Armageddon crashed to the ground before her.

Her hands shook with horror, but she'd managed not to soil herself as the cyborg gently pried her away from him and urged her forward and into the charnel house. What had once been bodies of the oversized half-breed creatures and Dilgar lay mulched in the remnants of destroyed bunkers.

“Clear!” Cried Danzig as he poked his head into the now exposed tunnels, “No, wait-” He fired his rifle twice, “-Clear. Eagle 1 is burrowing. All teams advance into the breach on my mark.”

He looked to the Inquisitor, who nodded once in the affirmative, “Mark.”

The Imperial soldiers dived into the remains of the ruined bunker, guns at the ready and eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary. Tonya noted that the red-robed men speaking Arabic and the men sporting black and yellow heraldry of the Inquisitor seemed to take a drastically different attitude to warfare. Where the swarthy men were gung-ho and devil may care, the masked men were more cautious, more calculating. Perhaps it was a product of their service to the Inquisitor, as Hilder was an apparently cautious man.

As Susan Ivanova helped Tonya down into the rubble of the bunker the reporter could not help but wonder if it would have been wiser to heed General Franklin's advice just to stay behind. The press tent hadn't really been that bad, had it?

“Jesus, Hilder,” Susan exclaimed in shock, as she stared at the severed head of a truly massive creature, “What the hell was that?”

“I'm unsure,” The Inquisitor prodded the elephantine face with the blade of his sword, opening the creature’s eyelid to examine its irises. “Every gene stock produces different half-breed creatures. I can only speculate as to how the half-breeds would be affected by generations of being in your space.”

“Generations?” Tonya asked in horror.

“It would have to be at least long enough to rescue an invasion force worth of Dilgar from their home world. How long would that have been?” the Inquisitor looked at Susan expectantly.

“A year, give or take. Probably longer,” Susan sighed in irritation. “The Incubation period for a thousand of these things is a month isn't it?”

“A week,” replied the Inquisitor calmly. “Sgt. Hamman, if you would be so kind?”

A sallow cheeked man with a recently healed scar across his face smiled eagerly as he thumbed the activator to his flamethrower and fired down the passageway ahead. An inhuman howl echoed from the depths as something many-limbed and canine scrambled away into the darkness.

The Inquisitor smiled eagerly as he activated the power switch on his broadsword, lighting coruscating across it's blade, “Weapons free. If it moves, kill it.”

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-01-14 12:06am
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-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

G'Kar bellowed in frustration as he watched a Narn solder get ripped in half by the monstrous half-breed apes through his binoculars. The creature howled in ecstasy as it shoved hunks of meat into its discontentedly fanged maw, writhing it tentacles in pleasure only to screech in pain as a Centauri commando drove a Centauri gladius into the creature's skull.

“I don't care how you get them to the third ridge, but we need more men down there. Those things are going to overrun them soon,” barked the Centauri General into his communicator from where he stood some ten paces behind G'Kar in his command tent. “No I do not want you to shell the Narn position. I want you to send commandoes to support it.”

General Ezra was, as Centauri went, an utter and unmitigated son of a bitch. He was cold hearted, calculating, and racist to a fault, but the man both understood warfare and outright refused to allow himself to misuse allied forces. When war eventually did break out between their peoples, G'Kar would have to make a special effort to have the man assassinated for fear that the man might turn that competence to victory against the Narn.

He flattered himself that the General shared similar feelings about G'Kar. They were adversaries, to be sure, but united in purpose against the monsters of Faust. Ezra did not believe in the teachings of G'Quan. Nor did he belive that G'Kar was correct in his assertions that these creatures were servants of the ancient enemy of the Narn people. Yet belief was unnecessary.

Ezra hated the half-breed creatures of Faust on principle. They were esthetically appalling and they seemed entirely determined to eat as many Centauri as they could manage. Which, on reflection, was as good a reason as any.

“Jak,” The General questioned their Imperial military advisor, “Precisely how do you suggest breaking this stalemate? I cannot advance without exposing the eastern front to Dilgar scout tanks.”

The damn things were a nightmare. They weren’t so much tanks as high-calibre rifles and anti-armor guns slapped into motor-bikes, and they had a level of mobility along the trenches that was hard to manage with their more cumbersome Centauri and Narn counterparts.

“Do... do you have m... mobile anti-aircraft weapons?” Jak considered the problem.

“No,” The Centauri general sighed irritatedly, “They're all plasma-based. We can't bring them into the eastern trenches with so much methane in the air. We could try another air strike, but we lost two fighers out of the last ten we sent on environmental hazards alone.”

“We have some shoulder mounted missiles that could work,” G'Kar sighed, “But they're not going to work at this range. We'd have to get them substantially closer to work.”

“How do you dig them out in the Empire?” Queried the General.

“N... not usually the j... job of rank and file solders. C... common practice is to nuke the population center from orbit or drop asteroids on the continent.” Jak shrugged his shoulders. “I... Impractical in our current situation due to environmental complications.”

“You use mass drivers on your own populations?” G'Kar felt queasy at the thought of it. Mass driver weaponry was banned by every single civilized species in the known universe. Even the Centauri were signatories on that treaty.

“If necessary,” Jak nodded, twitching slightly in thought. “Every situation different. M... measured r...response for measured attack. Surrender of Imperial territory is an inadequate solution. Negotiation with terrorists is a non-viable solution. Eventually destruction of t...territory preferable to surrender. Numerous planets overpopulated anyway.”

G'Kar was about to reply when a Centauri soldier screamed from inside the camp, howling as tentacles burst out of the black ash and dragged him down into a hidden tunnel below. The soldier howled inhumanly as five hulking shapes dragged themselves out of the sapper's tunnel.

G'Kar grabbed the phased plasma-rifle off the table and fired twice into the largest creature's head. A wave of blue energy mulched the bony mottled flesh, bursting it with a satisfying squelch of cooked meat. The remaining four ducked into cover and opened fire, their laser rifles cracking loudly with the sound of ozone.

A Narn warrior growled hatefully, chucking a fragmentation grenade across the ground to explode a the feet of a half-breed warrior. The warped creature was kicked up into the air as its legs ceased to connect with the rest of its body. It was not long before an uninjured half-breed lost control of its hunger and ceased firing to start tearing off meaty hunks of the injured creature's legs.

The two half breeds rolled across the ground, stabbing each other with their barbed tentacles, before the Narn tossed a second grenade, ending their squabbling forever.

Surprisingly, it was Jak who killed the next half breed, shooting it with a slug thrower in the chest. The creature had actually laughed at the diminutive clerk before the shell in its chest exploded, putting a watermelon-sized hole in the monster's innards.

The final half-breed tried to flee back down the tunnel they'd dug, but tumbled to the ground dead when a Centauri soldier hit it in the shoulder blades with a high-powered laser rifle, the sort the Centauri favored for anti-tank weaponry. It didn't kill the half-breed so much as liquify it.

G'Kar tossed a plasma grenade into the warren to collapse the burrow before activating his communicator, “This is a general warning to all troops. I repeat, general warning to all troops. The creatures can burrow through the ground. Attacks may come from below!”

The General growled in irritation and slammed his helmet firmly across his head, tossing the feather back over it imperiously, “Monstrous, cowardly beasts. They have no sense of gentlemanly warfare.”

“Sound the general advance,” G'Kar growled in irritation. “We need to get this command post to more secure ground as soon as possible. If we can't make the ten miles to the forward bunker we're going to have to be fighting the damn tunnel Tujula all night.”

“T... tunnel Tujula?” Jak Queried.

“They're an animal that lives on Na – That's not important right now,” G'Kar pointed with his gauntleted fist at a stone fortress sitting on top of a distant ridge. “We need to take that fortress, or by G'Quan we will die here.”

“I'm inclined to agree,” The General growled in irritation, “All troops, plan delta G. Advance on my mark.”

-=-=-=--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Susan watched as the Inquisitor examined the battlefield from safely below the trenches, a long optic extending from his eye up and over the rim of the trench, “Faust has not breached the main wall.”

“That's good isn't it?” Queried Danzig as he rubbed the soot from his eyes. “It means we're not too late.”

“Oh, we're late,” Daul growled in irritation. “Late enough that they should have some more noteworthy siege equipment in place. They don't have anything more apparently dangerous than a Leman Russ. I mean, just look at those doors. Faust is mad but he's no fool. I wouldn't have shown up here with anything less than a Baneblade and a couple of Basilisks.”

“We didn't have those on Belzafest,” Shem whispered. “And the best siege equipment we did have, we took with us.”

Daul shook his head. “Faust has had a year or more to prepare for this assault. He has something planned to take down those doors. The question is, what is it?”

“Maybe he doesn't want them taken down,” Susan suggested, taking care to speak in English for the reporter's benefit. “If he needs a new base of operations, it’s hard to be more impregnable than Matok. He could be trying to starve them out. Like you said, the man is exceedingly patient.”

It felt a bit bad to be using the reporter the way she was. There was no way that even a quarter of this footage would hit open airtime thanks to the National Secrets Act, but it would prove her with a firm foothold to bring herself back over to their good graces. As long as they saw her as their double agent rather than as a traitor, it would go a long way towards helping her case.

But her case for what, precisely? She had no interest in becoming part of the Psi-corps, and her career in the Earthforce military was for all intents and purposes kaput. Daul had seen to that. He didn't think that she knew, but she knew the way that his mind worked too well for that to fool her. She understood Daul Hilder better than the man understood himself.

She was thinking his thoughts less often, but she knew how to visualize them if she needed to. It was a bit like having her own sociopath on demand. Which was, of course, how she realized that Daul did not have even the remotest clue what a reporter was. The Empire had no forms of standardized mass media that weren't strictly controlled by both the offices of propaganda and the church of the Emperor.

She looked into the camera as she said, “The man has been alive for centuries already.”

“Faust prefers a more direct hand in things,” Daul countered, rubbing the jaw bone of his helmet pensively. “No, we need to reconsider how we're advancing. Danzig!”

“Yessir!” the Lionheart replied eagerly.

“I need you to take the Lionhearts as we planned before. Approach them from the side and drive them into the artillery. I'm taking a different route. We're going to try and approach them from that path– ” Danzig pointed to a narrow tunnel that went vaguely in the direction of the front lines. “ – with Miss Ivanova and my retinue and look for summoning circles. If he's not going to use super-heavies, then the bastards are planning to use demons. So far, the invasion is proceeding to schedule and I won't have us slowing it down.”

“Of course, sir,” Danzig nodded affirmatively, looking to Miss Wallace nervously as the woman strained to listen in on the Gothic discussion, “Sir, perhaps she isn't...?”

“Yes, Danzig, the noblewoman should go with you,” Daul shuddered, clasping and unclasping his prosthetic hand. “I do not mean to inflict what I must do upon the woman. Take her with you. It will be a kinder thing by far. I'll relay their positions so that you can pass the information back to the line and carpet bomb the area.”

A shiver ran up Susan’s spine that was more than anticipation - a premonition, perhaps? Daul was not particularly skilled in the art of premonition, but Susan had always had a preternatural sense of when things were going to go completely wrong. She'd always written it off to Russian stoicism, but perhaps it had been something more.

It was with a heavy heart that she followed Daul and his Skitarii shadow, falling into step with Lieutenant Shan and the honor guard of Belzafesters. The lanky Kroot loped behind them, eying the departing Lionhearts and Belzafesters.

Vira'capac trilled morosely, clucking and shaking his quills in irritation. “Irritating man-things. They will be missed.”

Daul paid the Kroot no attention at all as they slunk forwards into the pitch-black of the subterranean passage. But Susan could not help but feel a deep and presiding sense of foreboding about the whole situation.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Li whooped eagerly as the shot from his aft laser cannon bisected an unwary Dilgar frigate. They might be upgraded with God alone knew what alien technologies, but the Dilgar were the same predictable predators as ever. They never fought a man one-on-one who could be battled two-on-one, and always chose a wounded opponent over a strong one.

Presumably, whatever race was responsible for the pitch-black bio-ships that lead their attack fleet had taken pity upon the Dilgar. How a fleet of Dilgar ships had managed to escape destruction hardly mattered. They were there, and they would be defeated.

The rebel fleet had already surrendered, and the so called “thousand ship demon fleet” of Dilgar and Bio-ships was slowly being whittled down to a mere dozen escorts and three kilometer long bio-dreadnaughts.

Their ECM was unquestionably impressive, perhaps even equal to that of the Minbari, but the Earth Alliance had beaten a race with powerful electronic countermeasures at the Battle of the Line. Plain human stubbornness had defeated the most technologically sophisticated race in the universe.

And there was no human more stubborn than Li. There was no crew better than the crew of the Beijing Beauty. And he'd fight anyone who disputed either.

“Manually aim the guns if you have to, but do not allow those damnable Imperials to have all the glory,” Li growled in irritation. The Earth Alliance had already been winning the battle by a wide margin before the aliens had shown up. It would be humans, not aliens or Imperials, who brought about this victory.

Li could not argue that the Narn and Centauri ships had not been helpful - necessary even - in ensuring that as few humans died as possible, but his pride would not allow him to even acknowledge the remotest scrap of the victory being due to the barbarians of the Imperium. To be sure, the demon fleet had hunted the Endless Bounty with a near-religious fervor, at times ignoring otherwise crippled or practical targets in lieu of firing at the Imperial ship.

But the Endless Bounty was not necessary. Not at all. Well, perhaps to draw fire away from himself. The upgraded Dilgar ships packed a hell of a wallop.

The Beijing Beauty banked hard to port to avoid a missile salvo from one of the kilometer-long bio-ships, yanking Li to the left within his harness as an enemy missile collided with the Beijing Beauty. A pair of startled Ensigns hovered weightlessly in the air as the ship's artificial gravity abruptly ceased to function due to severe damage in the ship's rotational section.

Li, still strapped down to the ground, grabbed them by their ankles and pulled them down.

“Permission to return fire?” Queried his weapons officer.

“Permission granted. ECM or no, It's a kilometer long target next to two other kilometer long targets, you're bound to hit one of the 死屁眼! Fire!” Li bellowed in irritation. The bio-ships troubled him: they were at least superficially reminiscent to Vorlon ships, though the jutting spines on the oblong black flesh of the ship were like no Vorlon ship he'd ever seen. Too much of this battle was unknown and unplanned.

Pulsed plasma fire rocketed across the vast expanse of debris and burning ships to collide harmlessly across the glowing energy fields surrounding the ships. The damned things were shielded, heavily so. “This is an order to all Earth Alliance ships! Fire all batteries at Hostile Omega 3, full power. The hostile is shielded. I repeat the hostile is shielded.”

Lieutenant Meyer pulled himself down into his seat, fastening the buckles hurriedly, “Captain, don't underestimate them. We're taking around one-to-one losses, even with the aid of the aliens.”

“Sir!” A worried Ensign shouted, “Port interceptors are non-functioning! Our Y axis is vulnerable from below. We have incoming fighters. I repeat, we have incoming starfighters.”

“Where the hell are our Starfuries?” Li barked in irritation.

“Protecting the London and the King while they attempt to activate their engines sir.” Meyer sighed. “Like I told you when you advanced past our defensive line.”

“Don't tell me what I already know, tell me how we fix it.” Li snarled as the sound of something impacting with the side of his ship clanged through the hull. “Damage report.”

“Superficial, sir. Re-routing power to grid g-42 aft to compensate.” the Ensign replied nervously, “The fighters managed to keep the worst of them off us. But we shouldn't stay here longer than we have to.”

“I thought you said the fighters were back with our crippled ships?” Li chastised his second in command irritatedly.

“Ours most certainly are,” Klaus pointed at the eagle winged fighters swooping past the narrow viewport of the bridge, “Those are Imperial fighter craft.”

“Saved by Imperials,” Li spat in irritation. “Fine, slow the impulse engines twenty percent and allow the fleet to catch up with us.”

“Sir, there are two Narn warships coming into formation with us, the Ga'la and the Anok'kor. They say they're planning to protect us till our interceptors are back online,” the comms officer announced.

“Good,” Li replied, “Keep hitting them with our forward batteries, switch to full spectrum pulses. And get that fool of an engineer linked up to see what in the devil is going on with those repairs. I don't want to be hiding behind the Narn's skirts forever.”

“I can't figure out what it is they're doing,” Lieutenant Meyer chewed his lip nervously.

“Mr. Meyer?” Li turned to his second in command.

“Sir, none of this sits right with me. It's too easy,” Klaus sighed. “I've never know the Dilgar to launch an assault that they weren't positive they could win. Our arrival was entirely predictable. The Earth Alliance was bound to send troops to Akdor even before they decided to invade, so why do it now? What do they hope to gain?”

“The Dilgar are not the puppet masters here, Mr. Meyer,” Li nodded towards the black ships in the distance. “Those ships, whoever they are, are the ones supplying and supporting them.”

“But what do they have to gain in invading a little scrap of nowhere that has barely achieved spaceflight? The only reason that we bother to be here is its tactical importance with relation to the Narn and Centauri home worlds.” Klaus shook his head, “This isn't an occupation force, or they would have issued some sort of demands or negotiations. There just isn't a reason.”

“It might not be a reason you or I could comprehend,” Li grunted. “Sentient beings value different things. We fight for different reasons.” However, it sounded hollow even to him that they would invade without some sort of greater purpose.

“Ensign,” Li commanded abruptly. “Put the battlefield on the main view screen.”

Li groaned in frustration as he looked at the friendly warship indicators, realizing their mistake. The Dilgar ships had flown in different directions to weaken the relief fleet's advance, spreading them to the northernmost and southernmost poles of the planet.

Li pointed to the second moon. “I want an enhanced scan of that moon. Immediately.”

“Scanning, sir,” the Ensign stared at her console in confusion, “Uh, just a second, sir. I need to recalibrate my instruments. I'm getting some odd results.”

“How odd?” Li asked nervously.

“Well, sir, there are a lot of odd radioactive elements present, but I'm having difficulty registering that the moon is there at all,” the Ensign replied in confusion. “I mean... it's a moon, so I know it's there, but it's showing up as being in more than one place at once – if that makes any sense.”

Li swore furiously, “It's an ambush.”

“What?” Klaus blinked in shock. “But how? We control the hyperspace gate.”

“Klaus, hyperspace is no longer the only method of faster than light travel,” Li replied in horror as a dozen kilometer long dagger-like ships soared out from behind the moon, skating on starlight around a monstrous warship with three massive pinioned wings of solar webbing. “Prepare to engage targets. Sent out a warning to all allied ships. And get me a firing solution, now!”

The dagger ships were elegant. They didn't seem to fly so much as they danced through the stars in a cascade of shifting shapes and shadow. The ships shifted abruptly every time Li tried to fix his eyes on one, blinking out of view and into a different location entirely. It was like grasping at smoke.

It was beautiful in a nightmarish way. An old race, it had to be an old race like the Vorlons. But why involve themselves here? Why now?

“Mein Gott,” Klaus' jaw opened and closed in astonishment at the pure and predatory elegance of their attackers. “What are they?”

“We're getting a message, sir.” The comms officer cupped his hand over his ear. “Uh – I'm not making this up sir – You do not belong.”

“That's it?” Li questioned, raising his voice to speak over the gunnery crew as they attempted to target the new threat.

“No sir.” Replied the officer. “Leave or die.”

“They don't seem to be waiting for an answer, sir!” The tactical officer shouted. “They're launching fighters. And – how in the hell did they – Incoming!”

A blank patch of space some hundred kilometers above where their sensors registered the presence of a warship fired upon the Narn warship to their left, a beam of blinding white bisecting the ship down the middle. Not waiting for Li's order, their helmsman punched the engines to full speed, narrowly avoiding the nuclear fireball when the beam of light hit the Narn reactor core.

“Sir! Our sensors just detected that we've been targeted.” The tactical officer shouted in horror. “I have no idea where they are sir! I have no firing solution.”

“Evasive action,” Li barked.

“To where?” Klaus growled. “We cannot match those speeds.”

“Second contact!” The tactical officer shouted. “It's the Endless Bounty. They've engaged the hostile.”

“They're transmitting a wide band radio transmission to all ships in the Region in Interlac.” The comms officer turned to Li. “They say, 'We will not surrender an inch to these miserable, arrogant, knife-eared murderous pirates. For the Emperor, for Terra, we stand.”

The excited chatter of his gunnery crew washed over Li as he pondered the new arrivals. The Imperials knew them. Not just knew them, hated them.

“Never thought I'd be glad to see that miserable ship,” Li grunted. “At least someone can target the bastards.”

“Sir!” The tactical officer smiled. “I can't target the enemy ships but I can target the Imperial torpedoes. Shifting targeting priority to imperial ordinance impacts.”

“Do it! And tell the Anok'kor that they can do the same,” Li grunted. “And somebody get on the horn to tell Captain Anders to stop sitting on his thumbs on the southern rim. We need reinforcements yesterday!”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Osma felt underdressed for the battle in spite of his carapace armor. The need for an expedient investigation into Nor's “little matter,” as he'd become fond of calling it, was so great that he'd left the coordination of security teams in the hands of Shakut rather than controlling them himself. He was, of course, in full battle armor and would respond to any and all invaders to the sovereign realm of the Lord Sáclair, but he could not afford to let even a second pass where the loyalty of Donat Enzo remained in question.

They kept on appearing in crime reports, odd examples of people having anti-agapics more sophisticated than they strictly ought to have had access to. Osma had never made the connection between the disparate crime reports, in part because the theft of medicine from the nobility was a rather victimless crime and in part because he rather pitied the crewmen who could not afford proper medical care.

It was not Bonafila that he directed his efforts towards at the moment, but a prior case that, due to the rapid expulsion of Magos Frist, had fallen by the wayside. The sabotage of the War Servitor was a seemingly unremarkable event. A week in which someone did not try to murder the Inquisitor was a slow week indeed. But the sophistication and the lateral thinking displayed by trying to poison a war servitor by restoring its mind to drive it insane was devious, even brilliant.

Were the war servitor to have murdered or maimed the Inquisitor, it likely would have been written off as a product of poor maintenance or an accidentally uttered command. In the highly unlikely event that they managed to subdue a crazed war servitor without damaging the machine, it would have still been difficult to figure out exactly what had happened, as standard procedure in those events would have been to cut out the malfunctioning augmentics first. Any healing done by the drugs would have been concealed by the damage done to remove the augmentics.

But there were two men to enter that room. The first had administered the anti-agapic. The second had administered anti-venom in a misguided attempt to protect the Inquisitor’s life. This told Osma that the first man not only knew the second, but knew them intimately. If he could find one, then it would be only a matter of time before he tracked down the other.

But after days of watching every damn security recording from one side of the cell block to the other, the most he'd managed to discover was that the ship’s internal security monitors were pathetically easy to scramble due to general disrepair. Whoever had come to the brainwave that repairing security cameras in the detention levels was a low priority task needed a kick to the teeth.

He leaned back in his chair and swore in irritation, “Bloody milk and whore tit's of the eye.”

A small voice yelped in shock at his anger. Osma swiveled in his chair to see the stocking footed Tariq. The child wore the smile linen smock with a tiny lion of Sáclair embroidered over the breast that Osma had given him for the last Primarch's feast. The boy shivered, afraid he'd done something to anger Osma.

Osma stood from his chair and lifted the boy into his arms, “No Tariq, I'm not mad at you. You're in no trouble. But why are you out of your bed? You have school tomorrow.”

“No,” Tariq lied, pouting sadly. “I don't. I can just stay up with you.”

“Child, you know very well that isn't going to work.” Osma grumbled, jiggling the child on his knee as he sat back down. “Now, why aren't you asleep?”

“I'm scared,” Tariq kicked his legs back and forth as he tugged on Osma's braided beards. “You always fight, and I want to stay with you. I want to protect you.”

“Oh, bless you child,” Osma grumbled. “I'm an old man. My duty is to protect the ship, and that means going into danger sometimes. But I go there to protect you.”

“You're my dad,” Tariq said in a voice that only the ungracious would call a whine. “I need you.”

“Child,” Osma gesticulated with his left hand while searching for a way to make it all right in the boy's eyes, accidentally tapping an activation rune on the keypad. He swore and reached to undo what he'd done ,but not before Tariq yelled “I'll help!” and proceeded to smack every rune he could reach, pulling knobs and levers with great eagerness.

Osma yanked the child away from the keyboard, resisting the urge to scream at the boy as he gently placed the child on the ground and whispered in a dangerous rumble, “Child, never do that again. Ever. The wrong rune, the wrong lever, the wrong button and you could well condemn a man to death. If I ever see you touch a cogitator rune without permission, I will punish you severely.”

Tariq groaned, rubbing his sleeves against his face and choking back the tears. Osma turned away from the boy and looked back at the screen, “Lets see what the damage is.”

The files largely seemed to be intact; the cogitator's search window had been open so the worst Tariq had manage to do had been to open a work order from gold channel. How the eye had he done that? Gold channel work orders were supposed to be deleted immediately after being issued. It was an added security precaution enacted by Sáclair to prevent Amon Sui sabotage. The order could not be known or altered by any outside party once issued.

There were precious few with access to it. Other than the Captain and the Lady Sáclair, he could count them on one hand, all of them dangerously highly placed within the command structure of the Endless Bounty.

“Child... if this is what I believe it to be, I may very well take you to the sweet shop.” Osma grumbled in frustrated approbation. He really shouldn't reward the child for something so grox-headedly foolish, but the boy had found the lead he could not. It was a lead, the first real one he'd found on the case so far. “Hell, I'm buying you that Commissar doll you wanted.”

Tariq was going through so many confused emotions that he seemed on the edge of whiplash. “I... didn't... but... what?”

All he needed to do was cross reference the work order with who would have been on the bridge when Sáclair wasn't there on the day in question to figure out which of the potential – Osma stopped cold as a tinny screech of a klaxon interrupted his train of thought. A blue light spun, flashing a warning that he hoped never to see again in his lifetime. Pirates - Eldar pirates - had boarded the Endless Bounty. Merciful Throne, where had they come from?

He punched the rune to save his findings to a data crystal and frenziedly shoved the crystal into the pocket of his tunic. Osma lifted the boy under one arm as he grabbed a combat shotgun and bandolier with the other.

“What's going on?” the baffled Tariq cried, “Where are we going?”

“Never you mind.” Osma whispered in a voice that he hoped did not betray the terror in his heart. “It will all be well. It will all be well.”

“No!” the boy yelled, “What's going on?”

“We're just having a drill. It's a game, boy, a special game.” Osma ripped open the evidence safe in his office. He waved his arm to find the massive adamantium block, invisible to the naked eye when closed, which opened to expose a room the size of a walk-in closet. He sat the boy down on a shelf, pulling a confiscated breathing mask tagged with an evidence number and fixing it over the boy's face before attaching it to an oxygen apparatus. “You're going to sit in here and wait till I come back for you. I need you to stay absolutely silent for this game. The other team doesn't play nice.”

Tariq latched onto Osma's leg, “No! Don't go!”

“I have to go, child.” Osma pried the boy off his leg and put him back onto the shelf. “I don't have a choice.”

“If you go, you won't come back.” Tariq's eyes were wet with tears, his words near-incomprehensible from the mask and the sobbing, “Nobody ever comes back. Not ever.”

“Hey!” Osma pinched the boy's cheek, “Don't you talk like that. I'm coming back. Always.”

“Promise?” The boy hiccuped, lifting the bottom of his shirt from over his belly to wipe his face.

“Of course I promise.” Osma hugged the boy, “I'll definitely be back. We're family. Family always comes back.”

The little boy hugged him as hard as his tiny arms could manage, pressing himself against Osma's chest as though if he just tried hard enough the bad things would go away. Sighing sadly, Osma ruffled the boy's hair and walked out of the evidence locker, shutting it behind him.

Hopefully he hadn't just lied to the boy.

“Come on then, you old goat,” Osma grunted agitatedly to himself as he ran out of his office. “Let's show these knife-eared bastards why they should stay the Eye off your blessed ship.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Daul twisted his fingers, manipulating the hatred into his mind into a bolt of energy as a half-breed warrior leapt from a second story window while brandishing an axe. The monster's innards sprayed across the bunker, venomous blood sizzling on contact with the obsidian. He hopped backwards to avoid the claws of a second beast, parrying its swipe with his power sword in a messy arc. The creature yowled as four sets of arms fell to the ground.

“Go other way, Vira'capac said.” The Kroot warrior crooned irritatedly as it drove its elbow into a half-breed hound's gullet, “Obvious ambush, Vira'capac said. But no, man thing refuse to listen to Vira'capac. Mule-headed man thing must go left.”

“We get it,” Shan growled in irritation, heaving a frag-grenade into the open window of the bunker, “Complaining won't make them die any faster.”

The grenade exploded, tossing smoke and shrapnel within the confined space. The Belzafest Lieutenant nodded to the nearest of his men, motioning for the door. The unfortunate soldier charged through the door and into the waiting jaws of an injured but still living half-breed. Barbed tentacles perforated the man's chest, poking out from his back as the creature dislocated his jaw and swallowed his head.

Susan Ivanova screamed an irate “No!” before firing at the creature with her hot-shot las pistols. The masterwork weapons punched orange-sized holes in the half-breed's face and lungs, killing it instantly. A second Belzafest guardsman charged up to the hole, depressing the firing stud on his flamer and turning the inside of the bunker into a blazing inferno.

The half-breeds on the second floor tried to counter the assault, but Daul's Skitarii counterpart opened fire with his bolt-gun. Fist-sized explosive projectiles ripped across the side of the building, ignoring the stonework as though it were paper. Shell met flesh, and the half-breed creatures died.

“Cease fire!” Daul barked, reaching out with his senses to search for the presence of half-breeds, “They're dead.”

“Another battle survived,” the Kroot crowed in irritation. “Irritating.”

Ignoring the preening alien’s self-pity, Daul followed Cairn into the charred remains of the bunker, examining it in irritation. The remnants of what had once been maps and charts were only burned scraps beneath the charred corpses of half-breeds, “Damn! See if any of the intel survived the fire. We need to figure out what Faust is up to out here.”

Shan poked at one of the bodies with the butt of his rifle, “This one isn't half-breed or Sh'lassen.”

Susan examined the body, green in the face for having been exposed to so many charred corpses. The breathing mask would help, but nothing could truly silence that hateful odor. The Russian leaned over the body and squinted her eyes, as though trying to envision the uncooked flesh of the creature, “Yeah, that is definitely a Dilgar. Or was, I suppose.”

V'clath sniffed the corpse, “It smells right for a Dilgar. Look at the mask, the grinning death insignia over a broken eagle. He's pledged to the half-breeds.”

“Then the Dilgar are officially an enemy of the empire,” Daul sighed. “Not that we're short for enemies.”

The Skitarii's shoulders shook in amusement as he fidgeted with the shattered fragments of data crystals, scanning them with his auspex in the hope that one of them was stable enough to retain some data. His taloned fingers, too indelicate for such work, were crossed behind his back as his mechandrite cables did the more delicate adjustments.

Kicking an eviscerated half-breed from its perch with a wet thud, Daul sat down at the still-smoldering table and rested his elbows upon it in thought, “None of this makes any sense. Faust's strategy is clearly dependent upon both siege weaponry and reinforcement arriving imminently, but whoever he's placed in command of this legion has no way of obtaining either. Your Earth Alliance fleet has blockaded the hyperspace route. Travel to and from this place by the warp isn't even possible for another four weeks, according to navigator Illirch. By now, any competent commander must see this. And we haven't even come close to detecting an upswing in Warp energies on the battlefield, so he isn't summoning something around here.”

“Very little about this war has made sense,” V'Cath brayed morosely. “It could just be their comeuppance. They deserve it.”

“I don't know,” Susan sighed. “In the last days of the Dilgar Wars, they started ordering all sorts of irrational things intentionally. The idea was apparently to confuse us into searching for a strategy where there was none, in the hopes that we would act to counter an attack that was never coming. It was a way of getting us to waste resources on places they had no interest in.”

“Perhaps,” Shan hissed, “but the Half-breeds aren't especially prone to forward thinking. They have to believe that their commander has an immediately practical plan, or they're prone to eating them whole.”

Daul chuckled, “Faust seems to think of it as aggressive motivation for his commanders to be visibly competent at their jobs.”

“Sir!” A terrified voice from the second floor yelled down the stairs. “I found something you should see.”

Grunting with irritation as he stood up, Daul walked up the uneven stone steps to the second floor, tossing a half-breed corpse out a window with a telekinetic burst along the way. It was an unnecessary showy way of clearing it off the stairs, but he needed to burn off some of the pent-up frustration he felt.

“Yes, private? What is it?” Daul walked over to the great-coated Belzafester, taking a small piece of stone from the man's hands. No, not stone, it was something else. Nor was it bone or metal: it was all three, and yet it was none. It was as terrifying as anything Daul had ever seen.

It was a token forged from wraithbone, a rune of communication. Even as he touched, it he could hear the overwhelming sound of thousands upon thousands of sing-song syllables screeching in anticipation of the conflict to come. As he tried to get his bearing, an overwhelmingly powerful mind howled in fury, casting him from the song bodily.

Daul flew a good food back from the rune, propelled away by pure will. He hit the wall painfully as he aimed the plasma-pistol strapped to his augnmentic arm at the rune, firing twice to evaporate the stone entirely, “Throne cursed blood and bloody hellfire from the bowels of the Eye!”

He shot the ashes again for good measure.

He looked up into the confused and terrified faces of his retinue. Vira'capac sighed and crowed, “Foolish man-thing.”

Susan said in a voice of genuine concern that surprised her as much as it did Daul, “Are you OK?”

“Yes, yes, I'm fine.” Daul shook his head to dismiss the furious presence of the Eldar talisman. “But we need to get out of here as soon as possible. The Eldar have allied themselves with Faust.”

“What?” Shan hissed loud enough that it might have passed for normal human speech, “Why?”

“The Eldar protect their own interests at the cost of all other species in the universe.” Daul growled as he tried to reach anyone on his long range transmitter. “I don't even begin to speculate why they do what they do. But we need to warn our forces that they're coming.”

“I get the sense that that might be a bit too late, Inquisitor,” Susan shouted in horror from the window. “They're here.”

Daul followed her gaze and felt his heart stop. From their elevated point on the battlefield Daul could just make out the outline of a flock of swooping wing-tipped vehicles descending from the heavens like lances from heaven. An army of lithe, murderous creatures stepped in an angelic grace, as beautiful as it was terrible. The war-host had arrived.

“Well,” Shen whispered in amused resignation as he pointed to a dozen massive war machines gliding above the ground around a vaguely humanoid shape, “There's your siege weapon, Inquisitor.”

“A Titan,” Daul groaned, resting his face in the palm of his hand, “They brought a Titan.”

“Would seem so,” the private agreed. “Don't suppose you have something that can kill a Titan?”

Daul's mind snapped to a black box bound in chains that sat within the Endless Bounty, a weapon at his disposal capable of unknowable damage if let loose. The words to summon the beast were simple enough. Just a few syllables and he could crush thething that stood in his way. His mouth began to roll around the first syllables – No, he wouldn’t do it. Daul shook his head to dismiss the thought. He could almost hear the voice of Bast Hilder chiding him, “Boy, don't you go and do some damned fool thing you'll regret later. There ain’t nothing worth losing who you are.”

“No,” Daul replied irritatedly. “I can't even begin to – Cairn what the throne are you doing?”

The Skitarii shoved Daul to the floor and started firing at the previously featureless black wall, into a gaping tear in reality. A lithe wraith-bone clad warrior covered in web-like patterns of blue and white fell to the floor, dead.

“Warp Spiders!” the private screamed as a tear opened behind him and a pair of power blades punctured his lungs. The Eldar screeched inhumanly as he dove forwards, creating a new portal in front of himself and disappearing with the impaled Imperial warrior.

“Out of the building! Now!” Daul leapt from the second story window and onto the ground below. He hit the ground hard and rolled to the left, just barely avoiding a net of deadly monomolecular razor wire. It tightened around the rocky ground, shredding it into powder.

Daul fired at where the razor wire had come from with his plasma-pistol, only to find that it was nothing but unoccupied air. He reached out with his senses, searching for where the next one would come, vaguely aware of the howls of agony from inside the bunker. Someone had been caught with the razor-wire webbing.

When a pocket of air began to slice open behind Daul, he did not hesitate in driving his blade into the nape of the eldar warrior’s neck, pulling the energized weapon downward to slice from stern to stem. Realizing too late that a second portal had opened up, he held up his hand and repelled the incoming webs with a burst of telekinetic power, forcing the Eldar who'd fired them to flee back into the Warp.

He readied himself to slay the next thing that hopped out of the portal in front of him when, to his dismay, Susan Ivanova came through it on the quite dead Eldar's back. His apprentice looked up at him in astonishment before saying, “Well, that was new.”

Daul lifted her from her fallen foe, firing at the vaguely humanoid shape of the nearby Eldar exarch as it used its carapace-like warp-jump generator to hop back into the bunker. A human head flew out of the bunker seconds later, though Daul was too occupied avoiding monomolecular webs to figure out whom.

“How the do we fight these guys?” The woman bellowed in consternation between alternate shots of the pistols in each hand. “They refuse to stop jumping all over the damn place.”

“Open your mind,” Daul growled, parrying a series of wrist blade blows from the exarch before it hopped backwards and disappeared. “You coward – no, not you Commander – open your mind to what is around you.”

“A bit busy!” Susan shoved Daul to the ground as another web swept past where his head had been.

“Look, just get pissed off and let loose. The rest will take care of itself.” Daul flung a fistful of lighting at a tear in space, cooking the warp-spider alive in his own armor.

“Down to one.” the Kroot warrior chittered from inside the bunker.

“How do you know?” Susan growled in irritation, “They're jumping around all the damn place.”

“Because, man-thing,” the Kroot yelled as he fired, hanging out the second window. “Vira'capac can smell them.”

Daul cried out in pain as the Exarch's blade sliced across his chest, perforating the side of his armor. It was a glancing blow, but painful in the extreme. First blood to him, then. Daul planted his hand in the Exarch's chest. Daul focused the pain into a single burst of energy in his palm as he smiled and said, “Farewell.”

The astonished Exarch flew across the battlefield into what should have been a bone crushing collision with the cliff wall. However, the exarch vanished when he got within inches of the surface, reappearing on the clifftop.

The Exarch looked down at him from beyond the range of their weapons and bellowed in psychically enhanced reverberating challenge, “You are dead, mon'kiegh, you just are not smart enough to have stopped moving yet. You have killed my apprentices? There are a thousand more where they came from. Before this day ends, your head with be on a pike to adorn my personal transport. You are nothing, garbage to be wiped off the floor. For today is the day you meet your doom –”

Whatever else the Exarch might have had to say was quite rudely interrupted as the entire cliff burst into a ball of superheated plasma, tossing the Exarch's desiccated and sizzling corpse to the ground below. A Sh'lassen battle tank rolled up the path, stopping ten meters from the Imperials. Daul stared down its main cannon, waiting on baited breath as it turned his direction.

It was not marked with the insignias of the Sh'lassen government. The traitors had arrived.

V'cath, their Sh'lassen guide brayed in fear from where he crouched in the doorway of the bunker, staring at the sponson guns of the battle tank in anticipation of his own death.

It never came.

The front hatch to the tank popped open and a Sh'lassen man in grey robes climbed out the front, hooves clattering loudly on the side of it as he climbed down. He pulled back his hood to reveal that his face was clean shaven and that his horns had been removed entirely. V'cath actually gagged in disgust, apparently repulsed by the rebel's appearance.

Daul couldn't have cared less about the rebel Sh'lassen's appearance as it bowed and proceeded to speak to him in his native dialect of Metzik Gothic, “Time is of the essence, fatebringer. If you and your companions would please follow me, you are expected in Matok. You have my word that no harm will come to you or your companions.”

“You do realize I came here to conquer Matok,” Daul replied in confusion.

“This is known to us.” the rebel replied, “As it is known to us that you will succeed. But not before you see what you must see. Not before you know what you must know.”

“And if we refuse?” Susan growled, looking expectantly at the Skitarii warrior as he walked forward aimed a melta-pistol at the side of the stationary rebel tank.

“Then you will kill me.” the rebel replied, “You will also likely die trying to make your way back to the battlefield.”

“You seem awfully confident,” Daul lowered his plasma-pistol and sheathed his sword. “Why?”

“Because Inquisitor, the path is already written,” the rebel smiled, “Only the end remains.”

“Kill him, eat him, and man things can take goat-man's tank,” Vira'capac suggested helpfully as he sliced the heads off of the Eldar warriors, shoving them into a sack for a snack later. He pointed with his jagged knife to V'cath. “Other goat-man can drive.”

“No,” Daul replied slowly, looking into the Rebel priest's eyes. “Not this time, Vira'capac. This time, we go peacefully.”

Daul didn't know why, but he had to know. He simply had to know. It was written.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Fighting every rational instinct in his body, David ran in the opposite direction from every other able bodied crewman, heading towards where he knew the Eldar pirates had boarded the ship. He would very much have preferred to be in his father's residence, sitting behind the numerous forcefields and barricades that prevented boarders from entering. He'd long ago lost count of how many times he'd sat in the fortified bunker of house Sáclair with a warm cup of soup and a blanket, waiting for the siege to break.

But he would not, could not, be idle. Not now, not while Bonafila was in danger. Faest Nor's surgery was only three decks up from where they'd breached the ship's hull, and he would not cower in some hole while the woman he loved was in danger. He sprinted along the hallway with his ornate rifle held tightly to his chest, huffing from the exertion. He was not out of shape compared to most children of noble houses, but the effort of running at break-neck speed for the past thirty minutes was more than he usually engaged in.

He'd heard stories of what Eldar pirates did, how they could trap souls within rocks and summon death with a whisper. More so that even Chaos, they were the bogeyman of all shipborne men and women of the Empire. They would attack without warning or reason, their skillful violence matched only by their capricious nature. They flew the stars in ships as large as planets, serving their own unknowable needs and desires. There were even whispered stories of a dark city that lay outside of time and space, where the Eldar dwelled in shadows and nightmare.

They would not take Bona.

“David Sáclair, where the hell do you think you're going?” a harsh voice barked as he rounded the bend some ten meters from Surgery. Donat Enzo stared at him in blank-faced irritation, his lip curling slightly in exasperation as he crossed his arms over his carapace-armored breastplate.

“I, uh,” David swallowed nervously. “I heard about the attack and I –” Throne it sounded stupid now that he was saying it out loud. “ – I have to protect Bonafila.”

“You decided to come alone to face an unknown number of Eldar pirates, armed with a flak-jacket, a kitchen cleaver, and a lasrifle I'm almost positive you stole from your father's armory?” Donat repeated in a montone drawl.

“Well – uh – yes.” David swallowed nervously and replied in as confident of a voice as he could muster. Somehow, speaking to Donat was more terrifying to him than even the prospect of fighting the Eldar had been. “She needs protection, and the Security can't catch every one of the slippery bastards with the Lionhearts on the planet.”

“And you know that in the event that you actually faced an Eldar pirate, they would have hundreds if not thousands of years of experience in warfare that you could not even begin to hope to match. You know that it would mean almost certain torture and death at best?” Donat replied incredulously.

“I – I don't care. She needs me.” David felt particularly small under the nobleman's judgemental gaze.

“Good.” Donat replied. “Controlling the bulkhead to the surgery is a two-man job, and none of security can be spared.”

“I – wait, what?” David blinked in surprise.

“And I will expect you at my house on Tuesday to discuss the conditions of your continuing courtship to my daughter tomorrow, providing that we both survive the day.” Donat led David in the direction of the surgery. “Once the matter becomes official, I intend for you to be chaperoned till I can negotiate a proper dowry with your father.”

“Oh.” David replied lamely before it dawned on him what Donat was saying. Donat had just given David permission to marry his daughter. “Yes – That – Yes sir! Thank you, sir.”

“To hell with your parenthood,” Donat chuckled amusedly. “A man who will die for my daughter is noble enough for me. But for both our sakes, let’s not make that our goal.”

“No sir,” David beamed as they rushed to the surgery with his future father-in-law, “Of course not, sir.”

In spite of the imminent danger, David briefly allowed himself a moment of unabashed happiness as he imagined his future with Bonafila. For once, everything was going as planned. Well, everything minus the pirates.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Earthforce One was more comfortable that what John was used to, more akin to a luxury liner from the days of yore than a space ship. Even as a pleasure craft, it was a bit excessive. The couch he was sitting on would have cost him two years’ salary to buy, but making an Earthforce One that was even bigger, more armed, and more impressive than the one that had been destroyed had been a unifying factor for the Earth Alliance in the years following Santiago's assassination. It was a way of showing the terrorists that Earth would never bow to terrorism.

It was a noble sentiment. Unfortunately, it just happened to largely benefit the Terrorist-in-Chief. The smiling hearty-cheeked midwestern Brutus sat across from him with a glass of scotch, discussing baseball animatedly with John. It was actually quite nice.

John kind of liked the guy.

John didn't want to like him. Liking him as a person was inconvenient. When the impeachment trial finally came about, there would be no way for it not to come off as a personal betrayal.

But the truth was that he did like William Clark. He was charming, if an unashamedly obvious politician in the extreme. If it weren't for the armed coup of the former President Santiago, he would have even been enjoyable company. Fortunately for John, his awkwardness around the President was interpreted as general nervousness around the most powerful man on Earth.

The president slapped him on the knee jovially, “Come on, Sheridan, lighten up. It's over. Relax.”

“Yes, Mr. President,” He replied with absolute professionalism, “Of course, Mr. President.”

“Call me William,” the President sighed in irritation as he sipped at his scotch. “There's no need to stand on formality.”

“Yes, President William,” Replied John, he raised his glass of scotch politely. He had yet to even sip it.

“Hah!” the President barked in amusement. “I made the right decision with you. You're as Earthforce as they come, Alliance through and through.”

“If you say so, sir.” John replied noncommittally.

“Actually, Captain, I have an ulterior motive in bringing you along. There are certain events that are going to come to light in the next few days. Certain events that will involve you personally.” Clark sniffed his scotch and sighed, “Lord that's good. Aged to perfection.”

John had been waiting for the other shoe to drop, “Events?”

“Well, I suppose I'm not the best one to explain this to you.” The president waved to the secret service officer behind him. “But we do have an expert.”

A tall, grinning man in a charcoal grey suit walked into the room and extended his hand to John. The man looked vaguely familiar, though exactly how he was familiar eluded him, “Have we met?”

“I've been on your station before, Captain,” The man laughed cooly. “It is quite likely that I've popped up on your radar in my travels.”

Clark snorted in amusement, “I'm sure you have. Captain Sheridan, please allow me to introduce Mr. Morden.”

“Tell me, Captain,” The man smiled. “What do you want?”

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-01-15 12:47am
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Wait, are these the Craftworld Eldar? The "I'm running from Slaanesh" Eldar? Don't they, you know, shoot Chaos on site? I can imagine Dark Eldar, since they are kind of by default aligned with Chaos. I am not sure which Chaos God (or Undivided) Faust is aligned with (I am postulating Nurgle, maybe Tzeentch) but I doubt the Eldar would help him that much, given their rather capricious nature.



Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.

Entropy-the collapse of everything, of meaning, of language, of values, of art, disorder and dislocation wherever you look, entropy drowns everything...


Last edited by CyrilsScribe on 2013-06-26 09:43pm, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-01-16 08:48am
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Yes, that was foreshadowing.

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-02-10 10:28pm
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Interesting that the Abbai are giving Earthforce shield technology in exchange for Earth weapons systems.

Even for people like Clark and his supporters, a lot of whom are strongly xenophobic, this agreement with the Abbai could well have some influence on some of them. Not necessarily Clark himself, but some Generals and lower level officers and bureaucrats.

Not that it would effect things much, but perhaps since Clark is getting chummy with Sheridan, perhaps as a jesture of good will and to try to bind Sheridan to him, the good Captain might be given a promotion. Brigadier General Sheridan perhaps(As in canon Earthforce seemed to call all higher level officers generals regardless of them being in the fleet our GROPOS).

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-03-13 04:53am
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Awesome story! It needs to be completed

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-04-07 07:48pm
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To the various people who've asked about updates, the next chapter will be updated soon, however it has been greatly delayed due to monkey related theft of a USB drive.

No that is not a joke.

I was robbed by a monkey. The bloody creature pilfered a number of my belongings from my backpack mid elephant ride.

I'm putting the chapter back together from the rough draft on my phone but it's going to take time. Your patience is greatly appreciated.

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-04-07 08:01pm
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I hope the authorities "Ape"rehended the suspect.



You will be assimilated...bunghole!

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-04-12 11:51pm
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There were days when the General hated his job.

Reports of skirmishes along the Drazi and Brakiri borders were becoming increasingly frequent, though neither government admitted to either initiating them or suffering any losses. Vorlon warships were appearing without warning through Non-Aligned World gates, huge gashes in their hull only hinting at some monstrous battle. The Vorlon ambassador was as cryptic as ever, warning that “The wind wanders as swiftly as the fields talk to the stars.” And to top it all off, they'd had to do a total revamp of the station security codes, to prevent Susan Ivanova from providing them to the Empire.

Susan Ivanova defecting; he'd never seen that one coming. Thank God Sheridan hadn't had time to bring her in their plan to investigate Clark - now, that would have been a disaster. John was usually a decent judge of character, but he'd been way off base with the Commander. Then again, as a telepath she'd likely influenced his perception of her.

It was possible even that she'd been a conspirator in the death of President Santiago, it would go a long way towards explaining how the assassins had snuck past security. It even fit their theory of Psi Corps involvement; God, how hadn't Sinclair seen it coming? He'd been with the woman for an entire year, and there had to have been some sign. And now they had another psychic to work with. Could they even trust Miss Winters at all?

“Damn it, William,” He sighed to himself, “Just eat your meal. You can fret later.”

The ostrich made its final scraping kicks as the Ogryn held it down, cleaving its head at the base of its skull with a wide knife. The birds were too large and strong for anyone short of an Ogryn to slaughter unaided, but Mukruk had the beast butchered, plucked and gutted in the blink of an eye. The sour-looking abhuman then sliced the bird in half, handing the massive carcass over to the other apprentice chefs.

Mukruk was neither as amiable nor as well-tempered as General Hague had come to expect from Galut or the other Ogryn who'd taken up residence on the station, but that was likely because the head chef insisted upon forcing the giant to bathe regularly and wash his hands before handling any food.

And Imperial food was well worth the irritated grunts and expletives from Chef Amir's plus-sized apprentice.

Imperial cuisine was an adaptable and surprisingly utilitarian one: since the Endless Bounty's food stocks had varied drastically from port to port, they'd been forced to learn how to use new food stuffs quickly. The ostrich had obviously not been a staple part of Imperial cuisine prior to reaching the Earth Alliance, but they'd taken it and perfected it. It had only taken minutes and a small boxed lunch for Father Al'Ashir to convince William that they ought to give the Imperials permission to set up food stalls to help support the refugee population.

The stand William sat at was one of several recently erected food stalls in the section of the station now being called Imperial Row. The deliciously spicy scent of Imperial cooking wafted lazily from where a tall upright rotisserie lazily spun in place, exposing a haunch of spiced ostrich to an exposed flame. William's mouth watered in anticipation of the meal to come as he pointed at one of the laminated photographs hanging to the back of the stall, raising two fingers to indicate the level of spice he could handle. It was virtually nothing by Imperial standards, but he had no desire to repeat his disastrous decision of asking for anything higher than three fingers.

Chef Amir nodded once and held out his hands for payment, gladly taking the paperbound book that William offered. The corners of his lips quirking upward in amused approval, the chef gingerly placed the book on a stack of similar tomes, articles of clothing, and a chest William knew to be full of precious coins. The Imperials had little use and less interest in the Earth Alliance credit system, preferring to barter for useful items or Imperial coinage. It had become something of a running joke that a credit chit was utterly useless in the Imperial sector, but that a book of photos or an amusing hat could pay a king's ransom.

Puffing up his chest in pride, Amir slapped his heart twice with his right hand before kissing his fingers and saying "Naõs Dio Imperator Rex" as he passed over Williams' newly-blessed meal. Puffs of steam rose from hunks of dark meat and spiced rice, scintillating and savory.

"It looks fantastic," William nodded grabbing a hunk of the meat with his fingers and raising it to his nose as was customary. "Absolutely delicious."

Amir nodded eagerly "De-leeshos. Vee- ri." saying the only two words of English he spoke with any fluency. He bowed deferentially to William, taking care not to meet the General's eyes or turn his back to the General as he addressed another customer.

All the Imperials avoided direct eye contact with him. It would be highly improper for crewmen to look upon their commanding officer as an equal in Imperial society. The Imperials were not in Imperial society any more, but the taboos of the Endless Bounty were the product of generations. General Hague was the ranking officer on ship, essentially making him the "king" of Babylon 5 and worthy of an irritating level of bowing and scraping.

William was by no means the only non-Imperial walking along Imperial Row; a smattering of humans and aliens were examining the wares of Imperial craftsmen or enjoying Imperial cuisine. There were far fewer aliens than humans though, as the Imperials were insular by nature and unwilling to even barter with the Gaim or pak'ma'ra. The Centauri and Narn had earned a sort of grudging respect from the Imperials, and though it could by no means ever be called friendship, it was functional enough.

The real issue, and the purpose of Willaim's presence in the Imperial Diaspora was their ouright hatred of the Minbari. The Imperials despised the bone-heads, no if's and's or but's about it. It was all station security could do to keep them from gutting any Minbari too foolish to avoid them.

This would simply not do. It was hard enough to keep the various unarmedalien races from causing problems on station. They'd set up checkpoints and screening procedures to ensure that the Imperials didn't bring any prohibited arms out of their section of the station, but all that had served to prove was that the Babylon 5 security officers were not sufficiently imaginative when it came to figuring out concealed weapons.

What kind of psychopath figures out how to hide mustard gas canisters within their own fingers?

This needed to stop, today. He would not have the station in shambles when Captain Sheridan returned. It was fortunate that bishop Al'Ashir was competent – and punctual. William smiled, waving a two fingered greeting to the graying man as he rounded the bend. The priest's thick beards bounced off his generous gut as he pulled his skirted robes up to avoid tangling them in the many cords strewn across the floor, exposing sandal-covered feet tattooed with double-headed eagles.

“Greetings are happy salutation, Captain of this station!” Al'Ashir bowed in respect to William's rank, his English patois more enthusiastic than accurate. “Is good to be seeing today on day of private contemplating the death of Primarch Sanginius. Fewer services for me to manage, only classes for the young.”

“I've heard nothing but good things about your world in Down Below,” William put some of his meat on a plate for the brother confessor, knowing that the offer would be declined. The priest was scrupulous in only eating sanctified foods, though his generous belly suggested that such means were in no short supply. “You're becoming very popular with the Lurkers.”

“I not ignore the lost,” It was as close to outright admonition as the confessor ever spoke. “I have much. They little need so I give what I having.”

“It's not unappreciated, and we've had a downswing in on station crime from the Lurkers since you started offering meals with your services,” William shrugged, “It was a good idea, I'll grant you that.”

“When will Al'Ashir be seeing listen to His word?” The priest pulled an honest to goodness scroll and quill out of his pouch and started scribbling down notes. “Apologies, idea for sermon is coming to Al'Ashir.”

“Actually I'd been meaning to speak with you about some of your sermons,” William pulled a small green pamphlet out of his pocket. A program of Al'Ashir's last service. Though all the actual service was conducted in Gothic, the priest had taken great care to translate the meaning into English so that it would be accessible by any humans attending. “There are certain passages that you're talking about that are – well – alarming.”

“Alarming?” Al'Ashir looked up from his writing. “What is being alarmed?”

“Well Father, the Minbari are lodging a number of complaints against you for inciting hatred against them,” He tapped the pamphlet. “And I can't help but see their point. You actually preach that one should 'beware the alien, for his mind is treachery and his purposes are anathema,' and that 'one finds no profit in forgetting the sins of the past.”

“Yes is accurate,” Al'Ashir nodded. “Those are the wisdom of the Saints.”

“Father Al'Ashir,” William sighed exasperatedly. “The war with the Minbari isover. We have difficulty enough in getting our two peoples to coexist without you demanding that people mistrust non-humans or glorify their deaths. Your saints commit outright genocide in your sermon.”

“Old testament is full of violence. Glorifies it not?” The preacher shook his head. “Or is killing in the name of your god only a work of fiction.”

“That was a long time ago,” William sighed. “We've learned from our past mistakes.”

“Still human. Still made. Rejecting human nature not make you different, only sad.” Al'Ashir pulled a dogeared copy of the Qur'an from his satchel. “History, allegory, violence, peace, all things hold part of truth. Sometimes forgiveness good. Sometimes hatred good. Never forgetting best. Never forget mistakes.”

“At some point we must move to the point where the crimes of the past don't matter, Al'Ashir.” William sighed, “I appreciate not trusting the Minbari. I fought them for as long as anyone else, nad lost friends and family to them. I don't like them. But we can't have you inciting people to hate them.”

“Word of Emperor preaches caution. Contempt shields us from those who would destroy us, guides us from those who would corrupt us.” The holy man steepled his fingers, eyes twinkling past his hands. “Teaches self-reliance.”

“We gain no benefit from stirring up resentment against the Minbari.” The General popped another piece of meat into his mouth, chewing between words. “We're allies now. Times have changed.”

“Have they?” Al'Ashir actually laughed, a raspy chuckle he was clearly unaccustomed to using often. “How? Are Minbari today not same Minbari of ten years ago? All Minbari murdering humans died after war ended? All came to justice?”

“It's complicated,” William replied, “There were other factors involved.”

“They were strong. You were weak. Al'Ashir sees no complication.” The Priest opened his prayer book, running his aging fingers over the thick parchment and hand-written calligraphy. The illustrated images around the Gothic writing of alien faces all menaced and leered up at William as the Brother Confessor smirked knowingly across the table in his direction. “It is not unheard of. Happens often enough in history. The strong oppress the weak.”

“We weren't weak.” William snapped, fully aware that had the Minbari not surrendered at the battle of the line his species would be nothing more than a footnote in the Minbari history texts. The race who dared to attack the Minbari war-machine. “And we – we won.”

The lie of it stung William's tongue.

“Alliance did not lose. Not dying only small victory, even when you call it winning.” Al'Ashir shook his head. “Your people young. You know little history. Al'Ashir knows history. Al'Ashir remembers more than you realize. You are child, not your fault.”

The preposterousness of being told how young he was actually made William swallow wrong as he sipped from his goblet of water. He smacked his chest firmly, coughing as he replied, “Brother Confessor, I'm hardly an infant. Twenty years can't possibly make –“

“Al'Ashir lives two hundred and four cycles General.” The Brother Confessor replied as though it were the most normal thing in the world to say. “More or less, for convert from Imperial standard to Alliance calendar not perfect.”

“Two hundred and fifty – how? How is that even possible?” The man couldn't have been older than sixty. There was some signs of greying in his hair and beard, but there was nothing to indicate that the man had recently celebrated his bicentennial.

“Imperial medicine is Al'Ashir's one indulgence. Al'Ashir lives modestly, but does prefer living. Drugs to stay younger. Expensive, but valuable.” He smiled sadly. “But no more.”

“Why?” William blinked in shock, “Why would you give that up?”

“Price to preach. Not simple to make, not cheap. Need specialist, have on Endless Bounty. No have on Babylon. Brought some with me,” Reaching into his pocket he pulled and empty tube out and rolled it between his thumb and forefinger. “But gone. All gone. Al'Ashir will age.”

“What did you use it for?” The General queried.

“Used last of drugs to help the sick.” He laughed heartily, “The blind see. The crippled walk. Little girl will live. Necessary use.”

“Brother Confessor, I cannot have you administering medicine to people on station without a license,” William interjected. “Especially untested treatments; we don't know if it will have any consequences. This isn't how we do things in the Alliance.”

“No, is not. Alliance let humans starve and suffer while xenos live in luxury.” Al'Ashir's voice snapped like a whip-crack of anger. “Let orphans and exploited go into xenos servitude to survive.”

“The Lurkers are unfortunate side effect of poverty. I'd help them if I had the power, but it just isn't a priority at the moment.” There was no way that Congress would put social welfare reform in the budget for undocumented workers on a military installation. They'd arrest the lot of them long before considering it.

“They are your blood. Your people.” Slamming his book closed in fury, the Brother Confessor jabbed William in the chest. “This heart is the same. Beats the same. Feels the same. Bleeds the same. You are humans. Brothers! Yet you ignore their pain.”

“This station isn't here for them-”

“Obviously not, when leader come to Al'Ashir for hurt feelings of Minbari.”

“The two aren't related, Al'Ashir. And it's time to move past the Minbari incident.”

“Forgiveness is earned. What have Minbari done for forgiveness? Nothing. Minbari apology was not murdering species. Not murdering not the same.” He raised his hand in admission, “There are good Minbari. There are good xenos. Them forgive. But one should not trust xenos. Like them, but not trust. Even xenos who are friend are not allies. Can't trust most humans and they share blood.”

“We have plenty of Alien allies, Al'Ashir,” William replied, “Even in the Minbari war.”

“They fight for you? Die for you? Protect you?” Al'Ashir shook his head. “Medicine, bandages, food. These are not allies, they are a deathbed vigil watching you die. Cowards and crows, picking at the wounded. The sold you guns and blankets and hoped you'd die away from their eyes so they did not have to watch their cowardice.”

“They were scared of what the Minbari could do to them,” William couldn't help but bitterly agree with the Brother Confessor on that point at least; the Non-Aligned Worlds had been stingy in their aid. Not ten years after saving them from the Dilgar slaughtering their worlds and people, they were unwilling to face the Minbari. “I truly do se your point but they wanted to protect – ”

“Their own people,” Al'Ashir finished for him. “Blood keeps strong. Humans all distant family, after thousands of years all human related. Ancient fathers, sons, brother and uncles protecting their flock. Xenos same. Protect families, protect blood. Save themselves before us. It is truth.”

“We're trying to fix that here. This place, this station, is an opportunity to make new connections, and to create a new culture. It was not long ago that humans would have slaughtered each other over petty notions of race and nation. We re-defined what it meant to be human, just as the aliens re-defined themselves when they took to the stars,” William rejoined. “And part of that is forgiving the past wrongs we've done each other. We need to be better than our enemies.”

“I will not preach blindness.” Al'Ashir snapped in irritation. “I have moved far enough from the World. Be grateful that Al'Ashir allow the xenos to hear the world of the Emperor. Granting them a chance at salvation! Is not sufficient?”

Al'Ashir's tone suggested that continuing the conversation would go nowhere productive, “I'll tell you what. If I agree to attend one of your sermons and to talk with the Senate about getting some concessions for the Lurkers will you agree to talk about the Minbari War less often? I'm not saying avoid the subject entirely, but please just focus on less divisive topics for the moment.”

“If you were to assist soup kitchen after service. If you listen to problems of poor then perhaps Al'Ashir do that.” The Brother Confessor nodded slowly. “But Al'Ashir would wish to get permission to open a school. Hire teachers.”

“A school?” William blinked. Babylon 5 had many things, but an actual school was one thing it had never hosted. Resources being as limited as they were, it had been decided that facilities encouraging people to raise families on station was not in the budget. “What would you teach? Who would teach?”

“Math, physics, history, logic, civics, many things one learns to become adult. There are children in Down Below. They do not learn. Fools turn to thieves,” Al'Ashir tapped his own forehead. “Learning to read. Learning to write. Necessary.”

“You can have your school Al'Ashir, provided that you have it open to allchildren. Human and alien.” He ignored Al'Ashirs scandalized gasp. “That's my price Father. Take it or leave it.”

“Very well,” The Brother Confessor acquiesced. “If must be.”

“Pleasure speaking with you as always, Father Al'Ashir,” William shook the clergyman's hand firmly.

“The Emperor Protects.” Al'Ashir replied in parting, standing up and walking away with a speed one rarely expected from a two hundred year old man. General Hague respected the man greatly, even if he didn't necessarily like the Imperial religion. The entire faith was too focused upon the deification of their leadership for comfort, and anything but blind obedience to that authority seemed to be sinful.

It had its perks he supposed. The work ethic of the Imperials was never in question, nor was their tenacity. Their understanding of union work regulations was another matter entirely though. William pretended not to see the servitor repairing a malfunctioning door two yards to his right as he sipped the broth at the bottom of his bowl of meat, the savory drippings ever bit as satisfying as the rest. Arguing with the ubiquitously dull-witted servitors would be a waste of time and energy, as the poor creatures had no real minds of their own.

He wiped his fingers, turning with the intention of walking back to his office, before turning back to the servitor. Being annoying to accomplish shouldn't bar an officer from doing what was right. He stood to go over and order the construct to stop when a familiar voice said, “Sir!”

Officer Welch was approaching him from a side corridor, followed closely by the Ogryn Galut. “You do not want to interrupt that one, sir.”

“And why is that, Officer?” William scratched the back of his neck in irritation. “It's breaking the law.”

“Yep, it is.” Officer Welch agreed. “And if you try to stop it from interrupting the law, it's going to think that you're sabotaging the ship and will send a warning to the three combat servitors they've got chained up in Kerrigan's ship.”

“I thought that I was clear that those things were to be disabled.” William growled.

“You were, sir, but I frankly don't trust Kerrigan's word when it comes to turning off her creations. We already had one close call with the combat servitors, and I'd prefer not to repeat it.” The security officer shuddered. “It's a good thing the Ogryn were there to keep them under control.”

“Servitors not think much,” Galut nodded in agreement. “Ogryn good at holding things down. Kapruk broke his arm, but that healed by Medicus Franklin. Medicus Franklin good medicus, fix things quick.”

“Well we appreciate it Galut, you've been very helpful.” The Ogryn's ugly face split into a toothy grin, his lopsided smile somewhat straighter than the last time William had seen it. Kapruk's arm wasn't the only thing Dr. Franklin had seen to repairing.

“Actually sir, the boys have been meaning to bring this up to you for a while,” Officer Welch nervously cracked the knuckles of his hand, clearly uncomfortable. “We were waiting for – ya know – the Chief to be back, him and the Captain. Didn't want them to feel like we were working behind their backs or anything. But it might be a long time and I'm running security now that he's gone.”

“I appreciate how you feel. I prefer to think of myself as warming Captain Sheridan's chair till he gets back,” William nodded sympathetically, “But we can't keep all the important things on hold.”

“No sir, of course not.” Officer welch dropped his voice to a whisper. “It's just, the Ogryn sir. They're considered property. The Ogryn have fewer rights in Imperial society than a damn house cat.”

“You mean they're slaves?” Somehow, the Empire keeping slaves wasn't particularly surprising to him. They had a strange glibness about the value of an individual human life.

“Not slave!” Galut sighed, “Lou not get it. Galut has bond of freedom to for cost of his room and food, life not cheap in space. When Galut pays cost of freedom, Galut is free.”

“Galut,” Officer Welch sighed, “has any Ogryn ever paid the cost of freedom?”

The Ogryn pursed his lips, “Not sure, but must be there. After all, why else have fee?”

“The salary they earn isn't even close to enough to cover it Galut,” the officer replied sadly. He shook his head and turned to the General, “I tried to show him on a calculator but he just didn't get it. Shiro keeps trying to explain this to them, but they just don't get it."

“Numbers are hard,” Galut grunted irritatedly. “Not important if fee more than salary. Galut just work harder to earn it. Gault earn freedom, Galut hard worker.”

“That's not now it – never mind,” Officer Welch acquiesced. “General, we can't keep on letting this go on. The Ogryn don't deserve it.”

“We can't interfere with how other governments allocate their civil rights, Officer Welch.” The General replied, “If they aren't getting enslaved within our borders, there isn't much we can do about it. They have equal rights on the station at least.”

“It's worse,” Officer Welch patted the massive Ogryn gently on the arm, his voice softening as one might use when talking with a child. “Come on buddy. Tell him what you told me.”

“That was a secret,” Galut whispered in a scandalized tone. “Galut wasn't supposed to say.”

“Galut you can't stay afraid of this guy.” Officer Welch's voice firmed. “We willprotect you. I will never let you get beaten again. You're better than he is. ”

“You can't.” Galut's voice hitched and a thumb sized tear ran down his face. “He – you don't know what he can do. What he has done.”

“Sir I want to give Galut and any Ogryn who don't want to be slaves any more amnesty on station,” He handed a tissue to the Ogryn, it was woefully undersized but the gesture seemed to matter more to the giant than the actual scrap of paper. Galut dabbed at his eyes, holding the paper between thumb and forefinger. The officer looked at William with a look of determination, “Like you said, we can't force them to be civilized in their damn Empire, but we can act like human beings on our turf.”

“Galut,” William said in a soothing voice. “Do you want stay here on the station with us? I can't promise that it will be easy but I can promise you that you will be free.”

Galut's break hitched, “Galut would – Galut would like that.”

There were days when the General loved this job.
-=-=-=-=-=-

The golden armored figured watched the battlefield, waiting.

Soon. The end would come soon.

Too long he had slumbered, too long he had sat idle while his people fell into decline at the genocidal hands of the alien and the psychic. Too long had they toiled under the yolk of oppression from both Vorlon and Shadow, forcing him to hide lest their ire fall down upon his entire species.

He'd watched the young races grow, timeless, immortal, guiding them towards their greater glory. In secret, always he acted in secret. But the time of secrets was soon ending. A new beginning for his people would come, an Empire beyond the imagining of mortal kindred.

The old ones would tremble and the younger races would bow to the might of his people, reason and order guiding them in all things. No longer would disorder rule the galaxy, no longer would people live under false gods or the capricious void beings of the Galaxy.

There would be order. There would be peace. There would be glory.

And he would finally live to see the galaxy as it was meant to be, united under the rule of his people.

Soon.

Oh so soon.

The golden armored figured watched the battlefield, waiting.

-=-=-=-=-=-

The first hint Sergei got that something was terribly wrong happened when the Imperial comms net went silent, cutting off Danzig's voice mid sentence as he gave orders to the various combat groups. The military grade comm-bead ought to have been good for ten clicks even if they were being jammed. But as they were rather occupied in assaulting a fortified position, it didn't immediately register in his conscious mind.

The fangs trying to perforate his gullet were a more pressing concern. “Get this beast off of me!”

The hound bit down hard on his gantleted arm, razor sharp fangs puncturing the flak and slicing the meat of his arm. Sergei bashed the creature's skull in with the butt of his rifle, crushing the beast's eye into a meaty mass of seeping fluid. The creature yowled in pain, releasing the Lionheart's arm and giving him time to fatally bayonet the wounded beast's gullet.

He pulled the trigger of his las rifle and swore furiously as the trigger clicked, sputtering and sparking from where the lenses had been crushed in the melee. His target, one of the saurian mouthed half breeds with oversized talons, grabbed Amir by his arms and ripped them from his body at the socket before biting the man's face off.

Gazan's firearm suffered no such impediment, puncturing the beast's groin with a grapefruit sized hole and separating the creature from it's legs. Its foul blood sprayed across the floor, venomous toxins mingling with the already disgusting muck and mire as it seized in the throes of agony.

“Get me that damn gun!” Sergei bellowed over the collective screams, braying, grunts and howls of the ongoing battle.

The gun in question was a plasma cannon of considerable size currently being used to stop a combat group of Narn superheavy vehicles from supporting the western forces currently overrun by half-breed sappers. Were it disabled it might be possible to re-direct the flow of combat so that the Leman Russ tanks could better support the Alliance advance. It was easier said than done, since the cannon was at the top of a ten-story tower accessible only from a narrow entrance that permitted one person at a time to enter or exit.

At this point, Sergei would have happily taken his pants off and danced from here to the eye of Terror if it would get him some decent air support.

Sergei grabbed Anik by his collar and yanked him down into cover as a bulbous headed half-breed with a long proboscis where its mouth ought to have been opened its milky white eyes and screamed at the top of its lungs. A torrent of green warp-flames rocketed down the trench, cooking two men of Sergei's squad and flinging shards of razor sharp obsidian from the ground into the air.

A braying screech cried out from the ten foot high lip of the trench as a dozen Triumvirate partisans slid down the side of the trench, firing their phased-plasma rifles at the psychic creature. They seemed to defy gravity, deftly navigating the almost sheer walls with their thick cloven hooves.

The thin barrier of telekinetic energy surrounding the beast crumpled, bathing the monstrous half-breed with supercharged matter. Sergei led the charge over the beast's roasted carcass, sliding through a narrow window and opening fire at point-blank range into the chest of a startled Dilgar soldier before flinging a grenade down the stairs.

The Partisan sergeant, a hoary old goat with horns that were cracked and broken from prolonged combat, bleated approvingly and nodded to Sergei, tossing his own grenade down the passageway and holding up his fist to his men in a gesture of pause. He brayed out in the Triumvirate language, cutting across his neck in a word of warning.

“That bad?” Sergei queried, understanding the partisan's meaning. They weren't numerous enough to take this position, even with thirty Lionhearts and partisans.

The sergeant cut across his neck once more, nodding emphatically.

“We have to take the gun,” Sergei mimed an explosion, making a boom noise for emphasis. “This cannon needs to go.”

The goat man waved to a soldier with a large pack, braying in the alien language once more. The partisan soldier pulled the pack open, exposing a convex silver disc the size of a man's chest and placing it upon the floor. A blue light glowed at the disc's center as the partisan placed his hand at the center braying a pass-phrase of some sort and activating the disk.

Long spidery legs extended from the device as it rose up in the air, hovering at eye level before speeding down the stairs. Sergei barely had time to muster a “what is that?” before the partisans were in motion.

Hooves scratched and scrambled as the hoary warriors leapt on their powerful legs into whatever space they could find inside the ruined bunker. They wrapped their faces and snouts in soot-stained cloth, taking extraordinary care to wrap their eyes and ears.

“Oh Throne, it's a bomb!” Sergei screeched, taking cover behind an upturned desk and slapped his hands over his ears. No wonder the partisans were so far behind enemy lines - they were saboteurs.

The tower shook as the machine found its target, the deafening sound of wrenching metal and falling stone thundering past the palms of Sergei's hands. The terrified voices of his men echoed from outside the window as boulders and shrapnel rained down from the sky.

A cloud of dust, ash and charred bits of half-breed whooshed past, the scents of sulfur and cordite crisp upon the fetid air even through Sergei's breathing mask.

“Are we all still alive?” Gazan's irritated voice echoed from where he crouched in the door-frame of the tower, a slight disappointedly mocking lilt to his tone.

“Lamentably,” griped one of the newer Lionhearts, Irvan, as he hacked up a mouthful of ash. The fool hadn't attached his mask properly. “Throne, that tastes vile.”

“Then fix the buckle properly, newblood,” Sergei slapped Ivran hard across the back of his head, “Chem grenades taste worse.”

“Who's injured?” The narrow-cheeked Batin rose from the floor, shaking the dust from his chemoline cloak with a flourish that restored it to its natural crimson hue. Sergei's lip curled at the implied edge of command in it. Batin hadn't ever been command material, and resented the fact. But until Batin exceeded his authority there wasn't much Sergei could do about the man's posturing.

“Ahmir's unconsious,” Falin barked in irritation. “And I think my Throne-cursed ears are never going to stop ringing. I feel like I just went ten rounds with a Space Marine.”

“Stop your whining, Falin,” Saha'la chortled in rebuke. “You're alive, aren't you?”

“Argos, take point,” Sergei waved the weapon's specialist forward, letting the teenage Lionheart lead the way up the now-gutted tower. Argos was not as eager or gung-ho as his predecessor Hamman had been, nervous and a bit twitchy, but his reaction time in a crisis was preternaturally fast to the trigger.

The teenaged Lionheart swallowed nervously as he led the ascent, followed closely by a partisan carrying a heavy flechette weapon of some sort that whirred with the predatory menace of phased-plasma. The Lionhearts and partisans walked into charred remains of the artillery position, bayonetting any half-breed who still clung to life.

The Sh'lassen long range cannon was still vaguely recognizable from the half-barrel and crumpled stabilizing struts, but with so much of it crumpled or melted it would never fire again. Sergei indulged in a brief whoop of joy that his soldiers echoed; the Narn could advance at their leisure.

“Check if there's anything we can use,” Sergei waved at the corpses of the half-breeds. “Las-charges, grenades, maps, anything.”

The Partisan sergeant bowed his head and jerked his chin towards the stairs, pawing at the rubble on the ground with his left hoof. He pounded his chest in a gesture of salute before turning on the Lionhearts and heading back down the stairs, apparently satisfied that his goal had been achieved.

Sergei nodded in thanks, “Yes, of course. May the Emperor's will favor your course.”

“Sir!” Gazan shouted, shifting a sizable piece of rubble. “I think we've got a live one.”

“Gut him and be done with it.” Sergei replied, waking out onto the balcony and surveying the battlefield. The smoke and haze obscured all but the largest of war machines, a murky sea of angry ash clouds and purulent geysers. Pockets of land would briefly flash into obscurity as some great war machine ignited the skies, giving glimpses of men and monsters tearing each other to pieces.

A far ridge thrummed with the familiar barking roar of imperial cannon fire; the Leman Russ tanks had finally joined the battle. The Belzafesters were a bunch of uptight pains, but they'd made position on time in spite of their damaged transport. How the devil had they managed that?

“Sir,” repeated Gazan. “You need to see this.”

Sergei sighed and walked over to his medic, taking care not to slip and fall on the uneven ground or step on the exposed wiring. The rubble Gazan had moved, as it transpired, was covering a small alcove filled with maps and charts, most of them too singed or torn by the explosion to be of any real use. They did seem to be doing an adequate job of absorbing the thick blood leaking out of the Dilgar officer's gaping chest wound. The feline creature was too pitiful to even hate, it yowled despondently as it struggled to keep its slippery mess of intestine from falling out of its front. She - it was clearly feminine, despite its alien nature - looked forlornly at her side arm with her one good eye, knowing as well as Sergi that she'd die from internal bleeding if she even tried to reach for it.

“I am dying,” The creature stated in a matter of fact tone. She spoke an odd mess of high and low Gothic words, a growling purr on her hard syllables coloring it further, “No... not dying. Already dead.”

“Yes,” Gazan knelt down and examined her wound, surreptitiously taking her side arm and sack of grenades. “I do not know the biology of your species, but you've lost several pints of blood already.”

“A pity,” The Dilgar officer smiled sadly, her breath coming out in desperate gasps. “I assume you're here for Faust?”

“Yes,” Sergei replied. There seemed little point in lying.

“You're a fool,” the Dilgar growled angrily. “You will die.”

“Not before you though.” Sergei smirked. “And not before you tell me what I want to know.”

The Dilgar shook her head, a pained motion of her neck that only moved her head by centimeters. “No, I don't suspect I will. I've barely got life enough in me for this conversation. But it will be enough... just barely but enough...”

“Who is your commander?” Sergei held up a shredded map of the trenches. “Where can I find him?”

“She,” The Dilgar's mouth bled profusely choking her words, “She is not for you.Human... She is... she will defeat you.... you do not know what power Faust commands...”

“Sergei,” Gaza sighed, “I don't think she'll give us anything useful.”

“No,” Sergei agreed, raising from his crouch and taking her side arm from Gazan. “I don't think she will -” He looked down at the familiar design of the weapon in his hand and swore angrily turning back to the Dilgar, but too late. “- Throne, no!”

The Dilgar officer, tears in her eyes, drove a thin stiletto-like protrusion of wraithbone into her heart, cracking the gem-like protrusion in its handle. As the coruscating blue energies wracked her broken body, she howled a final burst of furious invective, “You cannot win!”

Gazan grabbed Sergei by the shoulders and yanked him backwards into the main room, bellowing orders to the Lionhearts as a dumbstruck Sergei watched the woman's flesh warp and contort. Protrusions of thorny vine-like white marble burst from her body, consuming her wholly in an ethereal burst of warp-flames as it reshaped her into a twisted mockery of mortal form. Her mawkish jaw distended two meters high as light burst forth from the map room.

The Lionhearts fired upon the stone creature, cracking and crushing marble vines and feline architecture, only to have it re-form from the ashes and rubble. Undaunted, the grinning cheshire beast wrapped in marble flora yowled in victory as it settled down. It sat unmoving upon the floor as a crackling hiss of ozone and pale blue light heralded a rippling pool of light in the creature's mouth and a lithe figure sauntered out of the blinding light.

“Oh hell,” Sergei's heart caught in his throat as he heard the giggling, almost-girlish titters of glee from the other side of the portal, while a dozen lithe figures seemed to wade through the cloying brightness. “No.. no.. not now... not here.”

“Open fire!” Sergei barked to his men, reaching into his pack for a fist sized brick of det-cord and slapping it on the ground. “Full retreat. Code 5 incursion. Eldar, they're Throne-cursed Eldar.”

The Lionhearts scrambled to get to the stairs, firing at the portal to give them time as the nightmarish howling of the warriors echoed from the portal. Fear seeped into Sergei's very marrow, the sort of cold, cloying and irrational feeling that death would soon be upon him. His knees shook uncontrollably as he wobbled and stumbled in retreat, leading his men out of the bunker.

He had to get away. He had to get away now, or he would die. He knew that he would die. Oh Throne, why had he agreed to go on this mission. Why had he decided to become a lionheart? He openly wept as he reached the trenches with his men, hiccuping animatedly. The were all going to die and he knew it. They all knew it.

The Shi'lassen sappers, apparently in the midst of preparing themselves a meal in the trenches, stood up in shock as the Lionhearts huddled in what cover they could find, hiding from the screams. The screaming, dear Emperor, he could hear the screaming as it came – wait? He knew that screaming. He knew what it did, how it turned men's bowels into water. Eldar trickery, sorcery. And he was whimpering like a girl in the dark.

Well to the Eye with witches, and to the Eye with fear. He smashed the activator to the det-cord and the screaming turned to wails of furious pain. "Take that you xenos scum!"

There was no time to appreciate his temporary victory. Bloodied and wailing furiously, the squad of Eldar women clad in form-fitting suits of wraithbone shot out from the rubble of the bunker, propelled by their own Warp sorcery-enhanced reflexes.

An Eldar female flung herself towards Sergei, twisting her lithe form in a way he hadn't previously realized was possible as she evaded a blast of crimson light from his hot-shot lasrifle. The psychic energies pulsing around her sizzled ominously, blindingly bright bursts of color and sound thundering in the confined space of the trench.

She leapt over him, propelling herself forward with a well planted kick to Sergei's chest that planted him in the muck as she decapitated an unfortunate Lionheart. The soldier's still terrified mouth opened and closed in the muck, trying to yell a warning to Falin.

Gasping for breath Sergei writhed across the thick black muck of the floor, scrambling backwards over the eviscerated innards of Martius as the bisected man struggled to pull his legs back to his torso with a ragged length of intestine.

“Knife-eared whore!” He howled in fury as the Eldar decapitated another Shi'lassen goat-man, her unnatural blade desiccating the body to ash. “Eldar witch!”

The woman let ought a haughty laugh, dancing backwards as he let loose with Martinus' shotgun before spinning left to avoid a downward chop from one of her male allies. Without thinking, he fired into the back of the male Eldar's knee, blowing the narrow limb to smithereens at the joint. He toppled over, nicking his face upon his own blade and howling in torment as the blade's venom dissolved his flesh and muscle down to the bone.

The astonished Eldar turned to their wounded compatriot, briefly freezing in their gleeful slaughter as he howled in agony before bursting into joyous laughter and continuing in their murderous reveling. Sh'lassen goat and Lionheart alike were slaughtered like cattle, eldritch xenotech blades making a mockery of the Lionheart's carapace armor.

Sergei struggled against a heavy wave of telekinetic force that ripped the gun from his fingers as a particularly haughty woman planted her knee in his side, and grasped him by the neck. Lithe fingers gripped his throat with unnatural strength, crushing the life out of him. He beat at her face and neck with his fist, plumes of warp-sorcery preventing him from actually making contact.

She stared eagerly into his eyes with an terrifying intensity as his skin turned purple and his eyes bulged, her vice-like hands preventing him from breaking. Laughter rung in his ears even as his vision faded, psionic reverberations trebling and distorting the woman's already inhuman timber.

Sergei heard the trumpets of the golden throne calling him to the lands of his ancestors as he could handle it no longer. With his last effort he focused all his spite for the woman into a dagger, in the hopes that he might at least distract the psychic long enough for one of his men to get in a shot at her.

“Curious creatures, you are. Pale imitations of ourselves, but a passable facsimile considering the limited period for genetic manipulation.” The inhuman presence of the Eldar witch forced itself into his head, probing tendrils caressing his memory with luscious pangs of agony. “The Mon'keigh have prospered in our absence. How fascinating.”

Sergi croaked in defiant reply, a wet “gwarp” as close to rudeness as he could manage. Though if the Eldar's scandalized titter of amusement was any indication, the meaning of his anatomically improbable insult had been properly conveyed.

“Defiance! Oh, how long has it been since we tasted such sweet defiance? I shall savor the moment when you become strong enough to match that defiance with action. Perhaps you may even amuse me.” The fingers left his throat, discarding him onto Martinus' corpse with bored irritation as the Eldar disengaged from the Lionhearts' corpses and soared out of the trench on glittering clouds of prismatic energy, their tittering laughter echoing mockingly across the battlefield. Sergei grasped the loose earth of the trench wall, digging deep in the soft ground as he gasped in the foul smelling air.

Amusing? His defiance tasted amusing?

He'd be sure to make sure the bitch choked on it.

Fingers shaking wildly, he snapped his breath mask back into place over his face, counting down from ten to steady his thoughts. A thousand flying constructs of bone and warp-craft swirled in predatory menace through the gaseous clouds of Matok, hellish green balefire streams soaring behind them in monstrous repose. The braying screeches of men and Shi'lassen echoed across the trench as men struggled to treat envenomed wounds and severed limbs.

The horns. Sergei could still hear the horns, as real and omnipresent as when he'd thought the golden throne was calling him. War cries, the Eldar were using trumpets enhanced by some sort of warp devilry to make them heard across the entire battlefield. It was more than trumpets; an entire orchestra of psychic instruments echoed across the battlefield in victorious symphonic ultimatum.

“Emperor Almighty,” Sergei whispered as the school of angry flyers parted, and a figure as tall as the spire of Matok floated to the ground with the sort of elegance and grace one would expect of a Gerran ballerina. “Sweet Emperor Almighty, please save us.”

The distant thunder of a company of Narn super-heavy artillery batteries thundered, laser fire scourging across the roiling cloudscape to collide with the opalescent screen of energy surrounding the Eldar Titan. A hundred smaller shapes burst into flame, paper thin wraith-bone flyers and hard shelled psychic-constructs unable to survive the withering counterstrike. The massive wraith-bone creature pirouetted on its spindly legs, moving with a grace and poise that belied its massive stature.

Jutting from where one might have expected a hand on a humanoid construct, a bulbous sliver flower glowed with an orange burst of color and thunderous noise that annihilated a kilometer wide circle of mountainside, smiting the gnats harrying at its sides. To their credit, the Narn artillery managed another two salvos before the Eldar Titan brought its primary cannon to bear and condemned the mountainside to the hell-scape of the warp in a salvo of dimensionally disrupting energies.

Gazan gripped Sergei by his shoulder and helped the man limp into cover, “Come on sir, we have to move. More Eldar could come out of that portal at any time.”

“Yes,” Sergei agreed. “Yes. We need to regroup with the other surviving Lion-hearts. This changes nothing for us. We stick to the plan.”

“Plan my ass! That thing is huge!” Falin growled angrily from where he was splinting a shattered finger, “What do we do about the wounded?”

“Carry those who can be moved,” Sergei winced as Gazan applied some sort of bruises to the wounds on his neck. “Kill those who can't.”

“And the Shi'lassen?” Gazan nodded to the handful of saboteurs who'd survived.

“Them too,” Sergei's lip curled in disgust. Not even the goatish Sh'lassen deserved life in an Eldar slave colony, “Nobody gets left behind. Nobody gets taken alive. Nobody. The knife-ears aren't getting that satisfaction.”

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-04-12 11:52pm
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-=-=-

“Decks 2, 3, 24, 236, and 404 aft have been boarded,” droned the vox-servitor lashed to the great throne, “Decks 2, 3, 24, 236, and 404 aft have been boarded--”

“I know,” Sáclair barked tersely at the servitor, smacking it across the face and knocking one of its prosthetic eyes to the floor. “We have a lot of boarders onboard the ship. Thank you for the Throne cursed update.”

The Captain's right foot burned in sympathetic agony as he put the Endless Bounty between the Eldar corsair and an Omega Class ship, earning a pulse-laser shot to the engines for his trouble. A troubling warning of potentially overheating power grid 12 zeta flashed across his augmentically enhanced eyes as he fired back on the spindly Eldar craft with his port weapons arrays, crushing the ship's solar sails into dust and fragments.

Centauri warships mobbed the crippled Eldar ship like frenzied sharks, tearing into the wraithbone flesh of it with their Vorchan laser arrays. For a race unaccustomed to fighting those more powerful than themselves, the Centauri took to the new task with impressive fervor.

Saclair accelerated as fast as his engines would permit, moving them up to the redline in a vain attempt to catch up with the Eldar ship. It was like grasping at smoke and whispers; every time he thought he'd managed to isolate which of the afterimages on his sensor array was the true ship, it would turn out to be nothing but another ghostly fake, and he'd have to sacrifice even more fuel to dodge the capitol ship's main guns. Kerrigan's enhanced sensors gave him only a moment's warning, but that was a moment more than his allies would have if the Eldar were able to focus on the weaker ships.

As much as it galled him to admit it, there was no possible way for him to beat the Eldar ship in a stand-up fight. The Endless Bounty wasn't a dedicated warship. His only hope was for the Eldar capitol ship to remain distracted long enough for his allied ships to be able to harry the larger ship into a retreat. The Earth Alliance ships were weak, but their lance batteries would be greatly appreciated.

None of that could happen, however, while the damned Eldar frigates were still able to control the flow of battle. The Eldar frigates were little more than capitol ship weapons mounted on flying frames: they were delicate, almost fragile by Imperial standards, but imbued with a speed that chased the very light of the stars. The frigates did not make easy targets even if they'd been playing fair.

That their pilots were guided by the greater psychic purpose of whatever Farseer witch-king ruled this coven of Eldar went without saying. The already preternaturally fast reflexes of the ship's Captain would likely be informed and aided by the future sight visions of their telepathic cadre. They weaved the paths of fate and foresight to win victories before ever firing a shot.

To the Eye with their foresight. Sáclair would be damned if he couldn't make his own fate.

“Mr. Andrews, I need to prevent the Eldar from moving through the system unimpeded. Their solar sails are giving them too much of an advantage,” Sáclair growled as he felt a wing of Vampire hunters attack the underbelly of the Endless Bounty. “And will somebody get these damn fighters off me!”

“We're a bit busy sir,” Replied the terse voice of Mr. Andrews between bursts of laser fire. His image was a distorted mess as the camera servitor skull struggled to keep pace with the crewman as he tucked into a roll, dodging the curved blade of an Eldar pirate. He jammed the shotgun into the Eldar Pirate's side, firing twice and expelling the contents of the Eldar's stomach across the wall of the corridor.

A second Eldar pirate came barreling down the corridor only to catch the saw-blade arm of a servitor, cutting the elfish figure's head at the neck. The body, unaware of its death, stumbled another footfall before toppling into a decidedly fleshy heap.

Mr. Andrews swore angrily as he pulled a dagger out of his knee, “Sir they took out the aft command post, and smashed the sensors for the tram. They'll be on you in moments.”

Sáclair's eyes bulged with apoplectic rage. The tram that ran between the main bridge and the command posts that lined the spine of the ship was a mark of status aboard the Endless Bounty, it was the ceremonial transport of Sáclair men for time immemorial. They were going to assault him with his own tram. He swallowed his anger and repeated his question in a tone of dangerous calm, “Mr. Andrews, do we have something that could impede those solar sails in the next five minutes? Yes or no?”

“I... I'm not sure sir. If the tertiary firing controls are still manually accessible we could fire a salvo of atomics at the moon. The debris should at least make them think twice about following us through it.” Mr. Andrews eyes were slightly out of focus, a minor concussion no doubt. “It might --”

“Do it.” Sáclair growled as the floor to the great hall parted, the obsidian tram rising up from the floor with the heralding singing of cherub-servitors and recorded prayers. “And do it now. We're about to suffer a significant drop in pilot concentration.”

The tram's doors exploded outward as dozens of heavily armored Eldar swordsmen charged into the great hall. The carapace armor of the ship's security officers provided no protection from the humming obsidian blades of the eldar warriors. Curved and cruel protrusions of bone jutted out from the chins and faces of the warriors, giving them a cruel and bestial facade.

Sáclair watched as the Eldar slaughtered their way through the security guards and lionhearts, psychic-powers making a mockery of the lesser mortal's physical skills. Their bodies twisted and undulated in impossible ways to avoid or absorb what laser-fire did not simply dissipate across the charged energies wreathed across their wraithbone armor.

The ship bucked with the impact of a misplaced shot from an Centauri Primus as Sáclair launched his own ordnance at the massive Eldar warship. His lip curved in satisfaction as he realized that it had managed to do nominal damage to the ship's top wing. His assessment was immediately confirmed by the Eldar's increased frenzy to slaughter his men.

A wing Earth Alliance fleet, led by the Beijing Beauty, attacked the Eldar battleship's underbelly, distracting it and giving the Endless Bounty time to break away. That damnable Xinjiang was at least a competent commander even if he was an insufferably thick human being. One couldn't have everything he supposed.

Sáclair counted down from twenty to lower his heart rate, waiting for the swordsmen to walk reach the wide dance floor of the great hall. He cleared his mind, willing his plan to the back of his head behind the protected memory engram implants. The throne was theoretically insulated against psychic intrusions, but with the Eldar one never truly knew if such measures would do more than hinder them.

Even the weakest of Eldar had a prodigious telepathic talent.

“Surrender to us, Mon'kiegh” The Astropathic servitor chained to his throne convulsed, her mouth forced to speak the words of the Eldar approaching him. The controller was likely the lead swordsman, a tall Eldar cloaked in yellow silks above his blue armor who'd paused fighting the Imperials long enough to make eye contact with the servitor. “Surrender, or you will die. It has been foretold.”

“You'll pardon me if I don't feel compelled to roll over and die,” Sáclair snorted in amusement over the loudspeakers as an eldar pistol pinged off the particle shields enveloping his throne. With a cheeky grin and a gesture unbecoming of the lord of a ship, Sáclair activated the perimeter shields within the dance floor's tiles, trapping the swordsmen within the confines of the ballroom floor. “And I don't exactly feel threatened by you at the moment.”

“You think too three-dimensionally, Mon'kiegh,” The Eldar effortlessly removed the hand of a lionheart brandishing a chain-blade, grabbing the man's stump and gutting him from navel to nostril with a elegantly curved blade. “This accomplishes nothing. You save no-one.”

“Says the man who's currently imprisoned,” Sáclair settled back into his throne, glaring menacingly at a servant and snapping his fingers twice. “Boy, if I do not see a pitcher of sweet wine in the next ten seconds I will be very cross.”

The child, terrified enough by the Eldar to forget the battlefield prohibition of liquor, rushed off to the Captain’s private larder. Just as well, really. It would have been horribly embarrassing to be denied liquor by a servant in front of the enemy.

“You condemn yourself. ” The Eldar shook his head, apparently disappointed, “There was still time to change your path, Mon'kiegh.”

“I choose my own pathm Eldar,” Sáclair bucked forward in his throne and swore as the sensation of a depressurizing section of ship tore into his thigh. He was paying too much attention to the intruders and not enough attention to the battle. He hadn't even considered that the Dilgar ship to his bow might still be a threat, but apparently the devious little predators weren't out of the fight quite yet.

“You listen but only to hear my words. Words are insufficient.” The Eldar's voice from the servitor hitched in contemplation, “Mon'kiegh are limited... too limited in language and thought. You need to hear my truth.”

A jab of psychic inquiry lashed across Sáclair's mind, an overwhelming and ancient presence beating against his thoughts and outright ignoring the psychic dilution of the power field. Thoughts, alien to his own, tried to impose themselves across his own thoughts and memories in indistinct patterns of unknowable emotion and prismatic color.

Sáclair's anti-psychic implants struggled to stave off the attack, forcing his mind to recall irrelevant thoughts and false memories. “Fine, you want to play this that way?” Sáclair bit down hard on the false molar on the right side of his mouth, cracking it open and activating a miniature pressure plate concealed within. “How about this, you knife eared abomination!”

Sáclair knew what came next made it no easier to endure. The supremely illegal implant was one of the worse devices to emerge from the Age of Apostasy. A thumbnail-sized chip implanted at the base of the Captain's skull was a modified version of the standard false memory engram, a single-use chip containing fake memories intended to lure away any intruding psychic - with a twist.

The memories within were the recorded feelings and emotions of those condemned to death at the stake and those undergoing the conversion into servitors. Their pain, their terror, and all of the horrible thoughts to run through their minds would be forced into the attacker's mind as though they were living it at that second.

Unfortunately, it also inflicted the same upon it's bearer.

Sáclair had always imagined it would be the Inquisitor who he unleashed the device upon, but this would have to suffice. A pity, he would have loved to force the Inquisitor to feel the touch of death.

The Eldar's scream of pain and terror was quite satisfying, nearly enough to drown out his own screams of agony as he smashed the Endless Bounty through an Eldar escort ship, breaking the elegant craft's spine across the prow of his own. It was not until the pain abated that he consciously realized that he was screaming or that he'd stopped noticing the sensations of pain caused by ordnance impacts. Double-checking to see that his skin was still attached to his body, Sáclair glared down at the now kneeling Eldar warrior as his acolytes helped him to his feet.

“Had enough, Eldar?”

“So be it Mon'Kiegh,” The Eldar touched his chest, running his fingers across a fist sized stone. The gem glowed with unnatural light, bathing his blue armor in blinding white light. The Endless Bounty's Astropaths screamed in shock, their senses overwhelmed by the sudden psychic mandate. Their minds, bound to the logic engines of the ship, projected messages across the great hololith. The same words a thousand times a thousand, “Here, here, it is here.”

An soul-stone, a throne begotten soul-stone, the bastard had a beacon for the damned bridge. The Eldar smiled sadly, “We die together Mon'kiegh. I will honor your defiance in my next life.”

“You first,” Sáclair smashed his fist on the handle of his throne, breaking the gilt paw off the lion and pulling a lever down to the floor. Shards of molten glass and crystal rained down from the ceiling as the concealed plasma cannons unleashed their lethal payloads at the non-humans clustered on the dance floor.

“Mr. Sácomer,” Sáclair tapped the vox caster newly implanted beneath his ear. “See about dispatching a cleaning crew to the bridge. I've made a bit of a mess up here."

------------------

The Shi'lassen rebel transport was advanced, strikingly so. It was no wonder that the rebels had managed to fight the partisans to a stand-still; they were laughably better equipped than their enemies. Throne, they were better equipped than most regiments of Imperial Guardsmen.

The thick carapace armor of their grey-robed host's bodyguards could easily have passed for the armor favored by Imperial Storm Troopers. The slight shimmer of ionized air around the armor plates just hinted at some sort of energy disruption technology to dissipate the plasma weaponry favored by the Earth Alliance. Their own laser carbines were of distinctly alien make, though if Cairn's unwavering fixation upon the weapons was any indication, of a quality worthy of note.

By comparison, their guide V'clath's filthy blue uniform and secondhand phased-plasma rifle seemed almost quaint. The hoary goat-man cradled his own weapon, apparently terrified of the rebel's shaved faces and missing horns. He would reach up and tap his own horns every minute or so, just to affirm that they were still in place.

“Where are you taking us?” Daul queried as the transport zoomed across the battlefield, dodging Dilgar artillery strikes with agility he would not have expected from the lopsided Sh'lassen construct.

“You will see soon enough, fatebringer. The time for secrets will soon be at an end.” The robed rebel rubbed at his chin, a gesture clearly born of a time when he still had a beard. “I promise no harm will come to you. That is not my place.”

“Oye vey. Do you really have to keep up the 'cryptic guide' thing?” Susan interjected. “I get enough of that from Hilder.”

The robed rebel snorted, shaking his snout in amusement, “There is no riddle. No secret. I simply do not know the answer. I was not meant to know.”

“If course you don't.” The Earthforce officer rested her forehead in the palm of her hand. “Do you have a name that we should be calling you?”

“He is Kg'Shar. Head of the order of Akab. Lord of the third circle,” V'clath brayed angrily. “Architect of the rebellion.”

“Remind me why we aren't shooting him?” Hissed Shan, “I feel like we should be shooting him.”

“I will die.” Kg'Shar whinnied morosely in English. “But not before finishing my duty. Not till you have met – ” The tank bucked hard to the right, the booming crash of artillery rounds colliding with the polarized hull thundering within. “ – Gornak, report!”

The Sh'lassen driver brayed and whinnied in the Sh'lassen tongue, a goatish mix of fear and excitement in each word. Daul looked to V'clath expectantly. “Well?”

“The new ones, er – Eldar – They've broken through the Sh'lassen defensive lines. They're in the outer reaches of the fortress city itself.” V'clath's ears twitched in fear as another shell burst behind the tank close enough to deafen the passengers briefly.

“They haven't breached the spire.” Kg'Shar shouted over the ringing noise in their ears as he closed his eyes in an effort to focus himself. “The Earth Alliance is doing a serviceable job of attacking the Alai Warriors. The Ceifulgaithann continue to harass the Narn for now, and hopefully we'll be able to sneak through the fortress without that damnable giant of the Fir Caurifeltaking note of us.”

“You're remarkably well informed about the Eldar.” Daul eyed Kg'Shar speculatively. “As well as the Imperium. Metzik Gothic is not well known, even in the Imperium.”

“I only know the phrases I used in greeting,” Kg'Shar shrugged, “I was told to memorize them. I've been practicing them daily for two years now in anticipation of today.”

“Told? Told by whom?” Daul shot a confused look at Susan. “Are the Sh'lassen precognitive?”

“Not to my knowledge. But I'm no expert in human genetics.” Susan shrugged. “It would probably have been flagged by the Psi Corps if they were. They don't tend to let stuff like that slip by.”

“Come again?” Shan hissed in shock. “The Sh'lassen are human?”

“Of course we're human,” grunted the annoyed V'clath. “As human as you are.”

“I don't recall hooves being part of the package!” Shan retorted.

“We altered our genome in the early days of Sh'lassen to survive the inhospitable mountainsides. It was a move of desperation to survive.” Kg'Shar grunted, “It was a mistake.”

“It is our heritage.” brayed V'clath. “We left Earth to live as we pleased, to be what we wished. We thrived.”

“By the throne. Beastmen!” Daul had never personally encountered homo sapiens variatus, a blanket classification for those human populations who'd ceased to be recognizable from their human origins. The Adeptus Arbites were careful to restrict the so called “beastmen” to the three thousand prescriled settlement worlds, often the worlds their particular mutant strain originated from. “How?”

“The methods of our ancestors were... necessary for survival. For a time. But we must seek a cure, to restore ourselves to purity. To what we once were.” Kg'Shar ran a hand over his shaved head. “I will never be pure, but perhaps my children and grandchildren might be.”

“How can you do that?” Susan quirked a single brow. “I was under the impression that you'd lost the technology to manipulate the genome. The Triumvirate destroyed it after the Earth Alliance showed up to prevent them from using it to change them back.”

“It was not time. The bargain has not been met.” The tank turned abruptly as an Eldar spear sunk into the side, piercing the hull before zooming back to its wielder. Its whistling psychic cry hissed nearly as loud as the noxious gasses pouring into the transport.

“Cairn! See to it!” Daul coughed as his rebreather struggled to compensate for the sulfurous gasses. Twittering irritably as he welded the hole shut, the Skitarii saw to mending the tear.

“The Alai are more formidable than I expected. More formidable than I'd believed possible.” Hacking in pain Kg'Shar clutched a medallion around his neck, a silvery jade bug that seemed passingly familiar to Daul, though he couldn't place it. “We're going to have to travel through the depths.”

“There is no possible way that I'm going to like whatever it is your going to say next.” Susan massaged her forehead, “But I suppose someone has to ask. Why are the depths?”

“Ancient caves beneath the battlefield of Matok. Deep, secret. Not walked since we first came to the planet,” V'clath shuddered in fear his as his hackles quivered. “Dangerous, very dangerous. They lead from Matok to most of the planet.”

“And they were not part of your battle plans?” Shan whispered confusion.

“They were.” Kg'Shar snorted, “But the beasts that dwell below would not have an intrusion. We do not belong.”

“Sent tanks. Sent troops. ” V'clath scratched at his muzzle with a taloned finger. “None came back. Trenches avoid the caves. Anything that gets too deep doesn't come back.”

“And you want to take us through there?” The Earth Alliance native muttered angrily, checking that her pistols were properly loaded. “Are you insane?”

“It is that or try to enter through the main gate,” Kg'Shar shrugged. “I would prefer to avoid the area currently overrun with Alai, and we have certain... knowledge that the partisan forces does not.”

“What aren't you telling me?” Daul allowed balefire to flicker in the eye sockets of his helmet in subtle threat.

Kg'Shar's bodyguards rose their firearms in alarm, but stood down at a gesture from their master. He shook his head disappointedly, “Inquisitor, I am not telling you volumes of our history and knowledge. You have let your curiosity guide you this far, have faith.”

“My faith is limitless, my patience is merely human.” Daul retorted. “How do you know that we will survive the depths?”

“For the same reason I knew your tongue,” Kg'Shar smiled, an oddly wolfish gesture. “I was told.”

“By whom?”

“We are a blessed people Inquisitor, blessed beyond imagining. He guides us in all things, leading us on the path to order and perfection. He is eternal, glorious. He has lived since men were but apes in the forest and he will continue long after we've died.” Kg'Shar sighed reverently. "Some say he strode the plains of ancient Earth before the dawn of man."

"Of course he did." The Inquisitor replied dryly. Daul hated dealing with cultists: they thought in circles and never gave a straight answer. And nothing was more insufferable than a cultist witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy, they outright refused to talk in anything resembling normal speech. Nothing but “it was forseen” and “so wills it be,” phrases as meaningless as they were roundabout.

Daul smiled as he probed towards Kg'Shar's mind, probing his surface thoughts. Not strongly enough for him to realize that it was being done, as even the weakest of minds would not miss an outright intrusion, but just enough to get a vague impression of what lay within his mind. “Does your mysterious benefactor have a name?”

“We do not speak his name. We are unworthy, but he has requested that yoube at his side and witness his glory.” replied the rebel, a flash of a two meter high figure flitting to the forefront of his mind. Thick gold-gilded gauntlets and a bright red cape waved about the massive figure sitting upon an obsidian throne as he watched the world progress on a bank of holographic monitors, his face wrapped in opulent silk to conceal his identity. He was the eternal guardian of Sh'lassen.

He knew that armor and knew patterns on the robe, but for the life of him he couldn't say why. Yet he had to know.

He did.... THRONE ALMIGHTY he did

No... no it couldn't be....Throne help him, but he had to know.

The tank's engines cut off, the thunderous grunting rumble grinding down to silence as the doors hissed open to the noxious air of Matok billowing into the confined space of the compartment. Men and Sh'lassen clamped re-breathers across their faces, the elongated snouts of the Imperial re-breathers giving the odd impression that all of them had the elongated snouts of their goat-like guides.

The three story ziggurat was pitch black, surrounded by great spired pylons stretching out to the sky at seemingly random intervals from the ground. It bore the all the signs of having been once a site of great ritual, though the centuries of disuse between the extinction of the xenos race that had built it and the coming of the Sh'lassen had worn it down to a wreck of its former glory. Cracks and pock marks scored across the thick granite face; weapons-fire and natural hazards had done little to preserve its history. Leading down from the wide stone plaza upon which the tank had parked was a winding set of weatherbeaten stairs, leading down from the platform and into the depths beneath the ancient temple.

A tendril of familiar psychic presence touched his mind and Daul smiled behind his mask. Susan wanted to talk in private. Outside of their lessons it wasn't something she was inclined to do, but that she even could do it was a sign of how much she'd come.

“I really don't like that we're doing this.”

“Just keep your weapon ready and your mind clear,” Daul waved a quick command to Cairn, ordering the Skitarii to keep within mechandrite range of their bodyguards. “When they betray us I want to be ready.”

“You're planning on being betrayed?” Susan eyed the massive obsidian ziggurat that Kg'Shar was leading them towards. “You're letting them take us into the cavern of certain death knowing that they're going to betray us?”

“Of course I am,” Daul shrugged. “I'm an Inquisitor.”

Daul did not have to look back at the Russian to feel her rolling her eyes in his direction as they followed their hirsute rebel guide past pictograph-covered pylons and down the stairway at the mouth of the ziggurat, down into the bowels of the unknown.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Tonya screamed as the half-breed hound lunged for her exposed leg, its gaping maw yawning open with obvious purpose. She bashed the creature across its snout with the shock-maul given to her by Danzig, crushing its head inwards in a burst of force from the glowing power fields wrapped around the heavy flail.

“I'd better get a freaking Pulitzer for this.” She yelled into her camera, “Twice!”

Rough hands grabbed her round the waist and pulled her into a comforting embrace as Hakam Danzig pulled her back from the window. “Stay down!”

“Sir,” Sgt. Hamman pointed his flamethrower at the gaping aperture, a gout of searing hot flames pouring from its nozzle into the pack of half-breed hounds. The unnatural hounds screamed and howled, their muscle and sinew cooking under the stream of napalm. He ripped a grenade off his combat webbing, tossing it down the passageway and collapsing the entrance to the bunker.

“They're getting close,” Danzig growled, his arms tightening around her waist unconsciously and pressing Tonya up against him. “Too close.”

He seemed to consciously realize his closeness to Tonya, reddening as he let her go, “Are you unharmed, Miss Wallace?”

“No Colonel. I'm fine,” Tonya brushed the dirt from the front of her uniform as best she could, “Just a bit messier than I'd like.”

“Good, but for Throne's sake stay away from the windows.” Danzig growled, his tone of command sending shivers up Tonya's spine. “Ashak, how screwed are we?”

“From the Throne to the Eye sir,” The baby-faced Lionheart swore angrily as he stared into some sort of handheld computer. “We've been cut off from the rest of the Lionhearts by the Eldar flyers. Jamal's squad tried to sneak around to the North and give us some fire support, but they ran into more of the burrowers.”

“Any word on the Belzafest artillery?” Danzig tapped his earpiece twice and winced as it spat static back into his ear loud enough for Tonya to hear it. He ripped the malfunctioning radio out of his ear, swearing furiously, “Throne cursed Eldar sorcery! Does nothing go to plan?”

“It gets better sir,” yelled Sóntian from where he'd perched with his sniper rifle, staring down his scope at the battlefield beyond. “We've got incoming!”

“How many?” Danzig scanned the room, in a gesture Tonya recognized. He was taking a quick study of his men, trying to get a sense for how the thirty soldiers were doing.

“I don't know,” He shook his head. “They're using some sort of illusion to distract my eyes, and I can't focus on any of them for more than a few seconds.”

“Let me have a look,” Tonya pointed to her camera drones. “I want to get a look at these Eldar anyway.”

“Do it.” Danzig nodded.

Tonya tapped the side of her head, activating the implant in her eye linked to her camera drones. She shut them tight, having two disparate images playing on her eyes would rapidly cause her to feel vertigo. She ran her palm over the remote in the palm of her glove and one of her silver robots flew upwards towards the edge of the bunker and out the window.

The rocky landscape of Matok whipped past at break neck speed as she navigated towards where Sóntian had been staring. A two meter tall wall of light and color erupted from the ground some hundred yards from the bunker, covering a kilometer wide section of hillside from view.

Well, blocking anyone who couldn't fly that is. Her drone shot up into the air, rising some hundred feet and focusing on the now exposed Eldar. The slender blue armored men labored around obvious weapons platforms, their long-ribbed barrels terminating in a thick, bulbous muzzle. Even at this distance she could see the air distorting and vibrating around the tip of the barrel.

“There are large cannons pointed at us,” Tonya swallowed. “Each one is manned by two men, they're – they're firing!”

The earth quaked as a thunderous burst of sound and color collided with the bunker, punching the southern wall inward in a deadly hail of razor sharp fragments of stone. Tonya screamed as one of the Lionhearts burst like a balloon, his flesh shaken apart by the Alien artillery.

Danzig mouthed “Run,” grasping her by her wrist, his frenzied command silenced by the thunderous ringing in her ears. She reached up to the right side of her head, the sticky feeling of fresh blood seeping from a fresh wound coating her fingers.

The Lionhearts fled in all directions, scattering as far as possible to deny the Eldar weapons a target. Tonya struggled to keep up with Danzig, the soldier half-dragging her along as they rushed into cover. Her ears recovered just enough to hear the whining keen of the weapons batteries as they opened up on a trio of Lionhearts. The air shimmered and shifted around them in a tornado of shifting forces, shaking the earth beneath them as it ripped them to shreds. Tonya gaped, too terrified to scream as the men were rendered down to their component atoms. A soupy mess of blood and fragmented bone was all that remained, pattering onto the sulfuric rocks with a dull hiss.

“Vibro-cannons,” Yelled Danzig loud enough for her to hear him over the rining in her ears. “Eldar artillery. We've got to get to – get down!”

He pulled her to him, shielding her body with his own as the stream shot past them, kicking up razor sharp fragments of rock and annihilating another Lionheart who strayed too far into view. He screamed in pain as a knife-sharp shard of rock sliced his cheek, exposing the muscle below.

Tonya squinted her eyes shut, focusing on the camera still hovering above the battlefield and activated its emergency beacon. It was nothing more than a bright light and a broad spectrum SOS, but it made for one hell of a distraction as she flew the camera straight into the leftmost gunner's helmet.

The astonished gun crews briefly stopped firing, distracted by the shocked scream of their compatriot and the bright light and motion of the robot. It was the meagerest of distractions, but one that the Lionhearts did not squander. As a confused Eldar grabbed the drone, staring at the robot contemptuously, his head exploded in a burst of gore.

Sóntian whooped in victory as the Lionhearts peppered the hillside in laser fire, forcing the Eldar to take cover behind their own artillery as a bright purple Centauri tank column hovered across the battlefield, interposing themselves between the Lionhearts and the Eldar.

A centauri medic hopped off the back of the lead tank as the Centauri armor opened fire on the Eldar artillery, “Are you injured?”

Danzig batted the alien medic away, speaking through a mouthful of his own blood, “I'm fine.”

A tank collapsed, crushed under the weight of the Eldar artillery as its internal fuel supplies ignited. Ruptured sections of hull flew in all directions, flaming projectiles crashing to the ground with an earth-shuddering crash.

“Sir I really should see to that wound,” The medic pulled a device from his belt.

Danzig grabbed the medic by the throat, “Save the dying first.”

“Yes sir,” The choking medic hissed. “Right away sir.”

“I assume you're the officer in charge?” A haughty Centauri in bright white carapace armor with an immaculate set of blue trousers sidled up to them, exiting his transport with the same casual boredom of a man walking to work. He shook slightly as the tank fired its main weapon, particle beams searing into the gun batteries and destroying two platforms.

“Get down you fool!” Barked Danzig as a second tank was hit by the artillery, the screams of it's crew punctuated by the sound of igniting fuel.

The Centauri winced at the noise, “Hiding from that artillery doesn't seem to do much to protect me. And all things considered, I would prefer not to be cramped. Tanks tend to be dismally narrow.”

“You're going to die you fool.”

“No, I don't think I shall,” The Centauri smiled and looked at his watch, his canines tapping jauntily against his lower lip. “Whatever else may be said about the Narn, they are masters of ungentlemanly warfare.”

Six Da'Va'Korrak infantry vehicles crested the ridge behind the Eldar position, disgorging a hundred screaming Narn onto the ridge. A few seconds of plasma-fire flashed across the ridge before the distant shouts of victory let Tonya knew they'd succeeded in taking out the vibro-cannons.

“Efficient savages,” the Centauri chuckled. “It's a nice change of pace to see them fighting someone else.”

“I wouldn't expect you to work with Narn.” Tonya shouted over the ringing in her ears. Hopefully the sound guy could get some usable material out of her two remaining cameras in post. “I'd have thought that the Narn-Centauri problem would be too much.”

“There isn't any Narn-Centauri problem on this battlefield Miss -” He let the sound hang in the air till Tonya provided “Wallace” so that he would continue, “Yes, miss Wallace. There simply isn't time to waste on that. To use your history, 'we must hang together or we shall most assuredly hang separately.' There are even GROPO stragglers somewhere in the column that survived the first push. By the Maker, I'm sure that the poor bastards are looking for some payback.”

“I wouldn't get too excited about your victory,” Danzig slapped a fresh power-pack into his rifle and shoving Tonya into the open Centauri tank. “Incoming, six o-clock high!”

“What are you talking abo – ” The Centauri's head separated from his shoulders as an Eldar jet-biker swooped past, swinging a curved halberd with expert precision. The Eldar jetbikes swooped and swam through the sky with effortless aggression, cat-calling and jeering as they past.

The Eldar jetbikes set upon the Narn like hawks upon field mice, screeching angrily as they gleefully swooped into their prey, shooting, stabbing and generally cavorting in their murderous sport. A pair of bikes flew past a Narn at opposite angles, catching him with the chains hanging off their bikes and quartering him.

She did not have abundant time to spare in sympathetic horror, though, as the jetbikes hadn't arrived alone. Lumbering over the ruins of the destroyed bunker, the half-breeds and hounds poured down into the valley, heedless of their own safety. The monsters whooped and waved their tentacles in victory as the Centauri tanks opened fire.

Spurned on by the carnage, the half-breeds eagerly climbed over the broken bodies of their compatriots, using the craters and mounds of charnel as cover as they returned fire with their own laser rifles and looted PPGs. The Centauri commandos climbed out of their tanks, firing energy rifles at the many-legged hounds as they fed upon the dead and dying.

Heavy footfalls echoed on the roof of Tonya's tank as a tentacle whipped down into the transport, decapitating the Centauri Guardsman next to her and grabbing her about the neck before she had the chance to scream. Her hand grasped for the shock-maul, blood soaked hands too slippery to grasp the smooth leather around the hilt as her body yanked up and out.

The many eyed half-breed stank of blood and its own filthy mucus, its scaled and mottled fingers stroking the side of her face with its long bony protrusions. It spat into her face and she felt a powerful wooziness coming over her, limbs not responding properly to her brain. It leaned in close to her, leaning it to her ear and whispering “mine” as it ripped the body armor covering her chest open with a razor sharp talon, yanking the carapace open and exposing the white cotton shirt beneath.

The creature howled in arousal as it grunted “MINE” and started to remove its own filthy uniform. Oh God, why hadn't she just stayed in the camp with the General? What had she been thinking? She tried to cry out for Danzig, knowing that the soldier was just meters away.

“No use, is mine!” The creature dropped its trousers, exposing himself to her and leering down. “Mine forever.”

His aroused smile abruptly became a screaming yowl of agony as a brilliant blue burst of phased-plasma collided with his groin, castrating him with a explosion of boiling flesh. An Earthforce Gropo planted a boot in the mewling creature's face, caving it in before firing twice into the creature's chest.

“Frag off, jackass,” growled the GROPO woman's voice. “We aren't yours.”

“Stonking hell, Private Druman.” barked a gruff voiced Sgt. Major as he helped Tonya to her feet. “Remind me not to piss you off.”

Tonya mouthed wordlessly, trying to comprehend what had just happened -- and what might have.

“Come on, sarge,” a massive black Gropo hissed, “You can congratulate Dodger for a good job later. We've got to get this column moving now before the knife-ear flyers are finished with the Narn and coming for us!”

As she clutched the severed parts of her flak armor together inside the locked transport Tonya Wallace realized that it would probably have been best to just have stayed in camp with General Franklin.

No footage was worth dying.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=--=-=-

Osma counted down from twenty, clearing his mind of fear. They could sense fear or pain, the whoresons could sense any strong emotion and would track it like a shark in bloodied waters. The knew where he was already; he had to assume that at all times he was fighting deaf and blind.

That suited him just fine. He knew the Endless Bounty better than anyone save the Captain. There was no need for him to see anything. He knew where they were, and where they would be heading.

Starships had a limited number of potential targets depending on what an attacker wanted. Pirates would go for the engines or cargo hold: they'd be looking to offload as much freight as they could manage in a short time. Most enemies would be heading for the shields or weapons control, looking to defang the great Lion of the Stars.

Eldar were different. When Eldar corsairs attacked, they wanted slaves.

Supposedly there was a difference between the different Eldar clans, but Osma knew better. He knew their cruelty all too well: the only good knife-ear was a dead one, and he was eager to spread some truly great Eldar across theBounty's bulkheads.

The drum-fed boltgun in his hands was heavier than his preferred weapon, the shotgun, but when it came to Eldar even piercing the hull was a small price to pay for killing the witch-kin warriors. He was not supposed to have the weapon, as it was technically archived evidence, but a master-crafted bolt-rifle was far beyond the limits of his operating budget. Reloading the weapon cost more than he'd earn in a year. Five drums full of the explosive projectile bolt-shells jangled softly against the carapace of his leg, muffled by their cloth wrappings.

He swiped his hand twice across his visor, wordlessly telling his four man security team to move. Kurtz took the lead, the worn leather soles of his Belzafest-make leather boots barely making a noise as he crept forward into the market on Deck 236. His feel made soft splashes in the pools of blood and organs.

Osma's stomach buckled at the corpses. The normally serene plaza was like something out of a nightmare. Men, women, and children lay upon the floor, slaughtered like grox on a feast day. It hadn't been done cleanly either; the odd lacerations and smeared blood beneath the corpses indicated that they'd died neither quickly nor quietly.

“No footprints,” Kursan waved at the puddles all around them. “Thirty dead, and it might as well have been a ghost.”

“Eldar sorcery,” whispered Kurtz. “They've vanished.”

“No,” Osma hisses as droplet of blood dripped down from the ceiling, landing in the wide pool of offal draining into the sewers, “They're above us!”

Osma spun his bolter towards the eaves of the vaulted ceilings, firing the supersonic explosive into the long face of a distant winged gargoyle. The garyoyle leapt at the last second, howling and alien battlecry as it spread its iridescent wings. It shouldered a rifle and fired, catching Aknsesh between the eyes.

The dead man's body collapsed to the ground as the security team rushed for cover as a dozen winged figures took to the skies, swooping gleefully about the promenade as they unleashed all sorts of merry hell. Osma slammed his blast visor shut as a dozen fist sized segmented pieces of wraithbone fell to the ground, exploding in a burst of psychicly enhanced pyrotechnics and sound. Flames licked at his carapace, scorching his exposed back.

He turned and fired on automatic, ten bolter shots zipping into the skies. They were moving too fast to target properly but within the relative bottleneck of the promenade's vaulted ceiling one only needed to aim so much. He caught one of the winged warriors with a shell to the chest, collapsing the Eldar's rib cage and removing his head and shoulders.

Kurtz and Kurzan tried to keep the Eldar from getting into close combat with sporadic bursts from their combat shotguns, peppering any Eldar who strayed too close with adamantium ball-bearings, but it wasn't enough. Swearing furiously as he tired to get a bearing on the swooping eldar, Osma pulled the trigger twice. The explosive rockets flew across the room, exploding against a bench and a display of pickled eggs, missing the Eldar warrior entirely. The blue stream of flames from his wings cast a predatory light upon the room as he leapt upon Officer Htor.

Htor screamed in agony as the Eldar gutted him with a razor sharp dagger, grabbing his intestines in one hand as he flew back up to the ceiling. The poor bastard lived long enough to scream as he was lifted from the ground, pulled up by the slippery rope extending from his chest, before the Eldar tossed him back to the ground.

“We have to move!” Osma barked. “Advance to deck 236, corridor 564 G.”

“Sir,” Aknesh swallowed fearfully, “That's on the other side of the market.”

“Just do what I say, cadet, and you might live to see tomorrow.” Osma fired another round and swore as it clicked empty. Ripping the drum out of his rife he slapped a new one in, ducking as a scintillating red beam sliced across his shoulder, cracking the cadet in the windpipe. The young man fell down, stone dead.

“To the eye with this,” Osma growled, making the sign of the Aquilla, “Move!”

Osma fired his entire clip into the ceiling as they sprinted the hundred meters, harried by Eldar lasfire. The bolt rounds missed their targets, the slender flyers too quick to be hit by such haphazard marksmanship, but the explosions of promethium and shrapnel forced them to duck and doge quickly to avoid hitting the walls or each other. Sparks flew from their razor sharp wings, psychokinetic flames wreathing their path.

Kurtz tripped over the corpse of a large man, the local butcher if memory served. His foot caught on the man's exposed ribcage, upending him and exposing his back. Osma reached to help him up, flinching as his back split under a curved Eldar scimitar. He fired at the winged Eldar, reacting on instinct rather than conscious thought, catching the xenos warrior at the thigh and ripping the man's leg apart. The astonished Eldar hovered on its pinioned wraithbone wings, staring at its seeping wound in shock as Osma smashed him in the face with the butt of his rifle.

The witch-man howled with pain, reaching out with his hand and catching Osma in the chest with a burst of telekinesis, which flung him across the room to collide with Kursan. The two officer's tumbled down corridor 564 G, ass over elbows.

“Are we dead, sir?” Kursan groaned, extricating himself from his superior officer.

“Not yes lad' not yet. Dyin' hurts less,” Osma coughed, wincing as he stood up. At least one of his ribs was cracked, possibly more. “Throne!”

“Sir.” Kursan shoved Osma to the left, firing down the corridor. Osma grunted in pain, both emotional and physical, as he watched the young man's face and legs dissolve under Eldar laser-fire.

“Knife-eared sons of bitches!” Osma snarled as he grabbed a frag grenade off his belt and heaved it down the corridor as he pulled the emergency lever to the blast doors, shutting off the passageway from the marketplace. “Cold hearted witchkin, I'll kill you for that.”

He tapped his earpiece, staring at the faint glowing redness behind the bulkhead. The Eldar were using their laser-rifles to cut through the door. “Osma to deck chief Enginseer for deck 236. I need the Enginseer for deck 236.”

“Speaking,” Replied the slow drone of a tech-priest's mechanical voicebox.

“I need the promenade's on deck 236 to immediately initiate containment procedure Alpha-two-six-six.” The red light grew brighter, small rivulets of molten metal rolling down to the floor.

“I detect no hazard.” The priest replied in emotionless monotony.

“Just do it.” Osma snarled. “Authorization code Osma K-G-0-10-Red-Red-Pink.”

“If you insist,” The priest replied. “May the Omnissiah's fury be upon them.”

The promenade of deck 236 was, like all parts of the ship, a multipurpose area housing all manner of necessary systems safety measures and necessarily capillaries for the functionality of the Endless bounty. Of particular interest was a release valve for the a civilian promethium supply.

Five thousand gallons of promethium burst from the ceiling, dousing the room and covering the Eldar therein. The chief of security indulged in a sadistic smile as screams of pain loud enough to be heard through the bulkhead echoed down the corridor. “Burn, you bastards. May the Warp eat your miserable excuses for souls.” He breathed raggedly as the emotional tumult of the past few minutes caught up with him; young Kursan's death had affected him more than he'd expected.

His ribs burned in agony and he had to steady himself upon the wall. He wasn't as young as he used to be. “Regroup,” He exhaled slowly, trying not to agitate his chest. “It's time to regroup. I need to get to a – to a Medicus...”

The Eldar attacks on the civilian populations had been terrifying, but superficial. Ten deaths here, another thirty there: none of the attacks were serious on their own, but if they were herding the crew of the Bounty while drawing security to traps, it could only mean that they were plotting some sort of decisive strike.

“Throne of Terra,” He whispered. There would be hundreds of people heading for the medical centers, the wounded and the dying. Perfect targets for the Eldar.

Osma forced himself past the pain and ran, leaping past repair crews and dodging servitor constructs as he headed for the nearest transport tube, hopping in and smashing the activation rune for deck 40. The chief Medicus, Faest Nor, would be irreplaceable, as would any officers currently undergoing treatment. Killing any one of them would cripple the ship as efficiently as destroying a reactor core: the Endless Bounty could not be properly crewed without proper augmentic implantation.

He shoved his key-card into the slot beneath the activation runes, pressing the large button and saying “Speed safeties overridden, authorization Osma-Beta-2-2-8.”

Osma regretted the decision almost instantly as the lift, no longer slowed by the limit of human comfort, rocketed upwards at its maximum speed. Osma hit the floor, the centrifugal forces too strong for him to even lift his arms or legs as the automated voice of the lift's machine spirit struggled to keep up with the rapid ascent.

It stopped with alarming immediacy, flinging Osma's body to the ceiling and back to the ground, further injuring Osma's already mangled ribs. Tears welled in the security chief's eyes as he lifted himself up, stumbling out onto the nightmare that was deck 40.

The Eldar were already there. A score of wraith-bone clad figures were dug in, firing down the corridor at a barrier erected by ship's security. Firing at his men, his men. Osma's blood boiled as he bellowed, “For the Emperor!” at the astonished soldiers.

Osma cracked the Eldar corsair in front of the lift across the head with his shock-maul, collapsing the alien's face into his skull. Osma pulled the trigger of his bolt-rifle with the other hand, forcing the Eldar's two compatriots to leap in either direction as Osma barreled past them. He charged down the wide corridor, hoping against hope that the men behind the barrier did not mistake him for the enemy.

Razor-sharp discs whizzed past him, plinking off his carapace as he leapt the barrier and landed hard upon the ground. He lay on the metal bulkhead for a few moments, breathing heavily, before a firm set of hands lifted him up.

“Up with you, sir, we've work to do. 'If you can't be bothered to remember the safety procedures in my mission briefings you won't survive long on this ship,' ” Sgt. Freidrich's amiable voice chided in a friendly imitation of Osma's own dull growl. “The Endless Bounty is a treacherous mistress: you disrespect her for a second and she'll leave you crippled, killed, or worse.”

“I'll show you treacherous, you insolent little shite,” Osma growled paternally. “What's our situation?”

“The situation is that we're fragged sir.” Fredrich fired twice at the Eldar warriors, ducking as a swarm of razor discs flew past his ears. “We're overextended, and I can't move anyone from this position or we'll be overrun. Mammud is fighting back a squad of the heavy armored ones in the starboard atrium.”

“What about Yang's squad?” Osma squinted through the smoke, firing a bolter shot into the exposed arm of an Eldar warrior. The creature screeched and danced out again into the open passageway, directly into the path of Osma's next bolter shell. The scarred security chief grunted in satisfaction as bits of Eldar pattered off the decking.

“Protecting the entrance to the upper decks. We can't afford to risk them getting to the officer's families and private residences. The family bodyguards can only do so much.” Freidrich swore agrily as his second-in-command took three shuriken to the abdomen, the razor sharp blades passing through one side of the man and out the other. “No! Ajax!”

“Why aren't the internal defenses active? Where are the combat servitors?” There should have been dozens of them there by now.

“Deck 38, sir. They're down there with Tuul fighting some sort of Eldar robots. The Magos is pissed that they're poking holes in the ship's hull.” He shuddered, “Sir you do not want those things to get up here. They've got some sort of cannon that just makes whatever it's pointed at disappear in shadow.”

“There has to be some way that we can help the people in the med bay,” Osma barked in irritation.

“I suggest praying sir,” Fredrich replied sadly, “At this point it's in the Emperor's hands.”

-=-=--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

The caves beneath the great ziggurat were elaborately carved rather than naturally formed. Unnaturally smooth walls formed a perfect half circle above the raised path leading towards the fortress of Matok, illuminated by faintly luminescent green moss. Regularly placed apertures in the walls led down into shadowy pits and hidden rooms, most of them full of the strange skittering sounds of massive insects.

Susan stayed to the center of the group, trying to put the Inquisitor and his retinue between herself and whatever it was that lurked in the depths. Somehow the still and sterile emptiness of the caves scared her more than the battlefield above. Dust and moss kicked down from the ceiling as artillery rocked the hillside, a passing reminder of the carnage above.

The Kroot hissed, its yellow eyes narrowed speculatively as it leaned low to whisper into Susan's ear, “Goat-men are not scared. Excited but not scared.”

“They've been here before?” Susan speculated.

“Or are foolish enough not to fear,” crooned the hunter. “Vira'capac fears.”

Susan raised an eyebrow speculatively, “I didn't think Kroot felt fear.”

“Not fear without reason.” The warrior's nostril's flared. “This place has no scent. None. There are no animals here, nothing but that moss.”

Cairn, apparently eavesdropping with his augmentic senses, turned and nodded once with an affirmative warble. There was something deeply wrong with this place: there was no presence to it. Since Daul had started working with her on her own psychic powers, Susan had started to gain a measure of ambient empathy. She could sense the mood of a room without trying, feeling the subtle rhythms of life that made up existence.

A room absorbed some of the people who were in it, like wet sand kept the impression of feet. Even insects had some psychic 'footprint' that they left behind. Daul had once blindfolded her and made her trace the flight path of a fly. But even as she expanded her senses there was nothing in the caves, nothing except the Inqusitor's retinue and four Sh'lassen.

But if nothing was in the cave, then what was making those skittering noises? What was it that kept just flitting out of view, moving in the darkness of the adjoining rooms?

“This is a dark place,” V'cath whinnied nervously, “This is a place where the Nightmare bringers and their shadows fought the Nameless Gods.”

“Yes,” Kg'Shar smiled cryptically. “It dates back to first War of Shadows.”

The Inquisitor eyed the Sh'lassen, “What is the War of Shadows?”

“A battle of great importance from before the dawn of mankind.” V'cath whet his lips and tapped his teeth together. “Not much is known. Only that in the time before time, the nameless gods were attacked by the Shadow Gods in the battle for the skies.”

“It's allegory,” Susan interjected. “The Sh'lassen adopted the former residents of Matok as their gods when they used their technology to alter the human genome. It's mostly interpretation of what pictographs remained. The original Sh'lassen used remarkably few written records. The aliens – ”

“Gods,” Kg'Shar cut in angrily, stopping to turn and point an angry finger at Susan. “The Namless and honored Gods who cast the devils of shadow from this realm. You will treat them with the proper respect.”

“Cairn,” Daul said conversationally. “If our guide does not stop blaspheming in front of me, please shoot him. I'd prefer a headshot, but bolt-round to the chest should suffice.”

Kg'Shar's guards brayed angrily, raising their weapons and stopping in shock as they slipped from their hands with a wave of Daul's wrist. Daul picked the weapons up with his augmentic hand, tilting his head jauntily as he said, “I can accept that the Sh'lassen are abhuman. I can accept that the Sh'lassen are products of xenos tampering with the human genome. But if you dare to silence my apprentice for not worshiping xenos, I shall be forced to kill you.”

“You will come to Matok,” Kg'Shar brayed irritatedly. “It has been seen that you will stand there at my side!”

Daul raised his plasma rifle and pointed it at one of Kg'Shar's bodyguards, “Was it seen that they return to Matok as well?”

Kg'Shar whined softly in defeat, “Very well, Inquisitor. I will ignore this blas – this incident. Now if you'd be so kind as to return the –“ Daul smashed the weapons in his mailed fist. “ – rifles.”

“I do not negotiate with traitors Kg'Shar. ” Daul replied sending a tendril of thought to Susan that echoed in her mind as she caught a motion out of the corner of her eye, “Now Susan.”

As Kg'Shar's first bodyguard reached into his vest for a pistol, Susan found herself reacting before she'd even consciously registered the threat. She reached out with her hand and focused her own internal reserve of power to a single focused point on the bodyguard's body. A line of psychic-flame shot out of her eyes, connecting with the Sh'lassen's hand and severing it at the wrist as he pulled his pistol from its holster.

The goat-man barely had time to realize that he was in pain before Cairn shot him through the chest with a bolter, collapsing the man's rib cage and purging most of his organs. The second brayed in horror, reaching for a combat knife as a burst of superheated plasma melted his face and skull.

Daul lowered his arm, shaking it slightly to re-adjust his cape as he stared at Kg'Shar, “Make no mistake, you are my prisoner. I am not yours.”

“They were ready to die. As am I.” Kg'Shar stated, sounding less sure of himself than before. “But I will not int– “

“Has been foreseen,” Susan interjected. “We know already. Has it been foreseen how long it will take to get there? We've been down here for an hour now.”

Kg'Shar narrowed his eyes hatefully before scrunching them shut, breathing deeply and saying, “Not long now.”

The passageway widened, reaching a huge spherical room honeycombed with circular openings heading in every direction. The path bridged the kilometer wide sphere, leading to a raised stone platform wide enough for thirty men to walk abreast, centered with a crystal plinth in the center that glowed a deep red.

The skittering sounds of insects grew deafening, chittering clacks echoing out of every passageway leading to the sphere. It was like the center of a giant hive. Kg'Shar hobbled forward over the uneven steps leading up to the plinth, muttering angrily in the Sh'lassen language.

“Do we want to know what he's saying?” Susan queried.

“No.” V'cath responded. “No you really do not."

A screeching howl echoed through the chamber as they stepped on the massive stone platform, alien and angry. The Belzafesters tried to form a protective circle around them as a swarm of shimmering apparitions swam into the sphere. Snakelike and ephemeral, the thousand phantoms swooped around them, growling with metallic screeches of fury. Neither part of reality nor divorced from it, they swooped around the gathered soldiers, treating solid objects with the same impunity as open air.

“What the devil are they?” Shan hissed in horror. “Daemons?”

“No,” Daul replied slowly, a slight edge of worry coloring his tone, “They are most certainly not demons. Though what they are I - " He eyed Kg'Shar speculatively "- cannot say.”

His tone was deliberately neutral. He knew what they were, Susan realized, he knew and did not wish to say to the Sh'lassen. Or perhaps to her, it was hard to tell precisely who the Inquisitor was deceiving at any point in time. But if Cairn's worried warbles were any indication he recognized the etherial shapes as readily as the Inquisitor.

“They are guardians of the Unspoken Gods.” Kg'Shar replied with reverence. “They follow His whims and His will. They will not harm us.”

“They seem pretty pissed,” Susan interjected as the angry howling swarm shimmered and swam, snakelike bodies fading in and out of reality. “You sure about that.”

“Reasonably,” Kg'Shar admitted, flinching at their angry tone as he pulled an amulet from his neck and placed it upon the plinth. “His will is not always immediately clear.”

“How comforting,” Susan replied sarcastically.

Lighting rumbled through the sphere, red waves of electricity sparking off the walls and through the school of guardians. It danced among their snakelike bodies before colliding with the plinth and coursing through the floor. Susan raised her hand to shield herself from it as it shot out across the platform when a sensation like a hook being yanked behind her navel jerked her backwards, dragging her across time and space. A mesmerizing stream of light and color played across her eyes before tossing her back earthward, wedging her body elsewhere.

They were no longer in the tunnel.

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-04-12 11:52pm
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“We are here,” Kg'Shar tapped his hooves on the ground of an unfamiliar stone circle of white marble. A dozen red-robled Sh'lassen rebels stood, surveying the group with mild interest as an armored rebel general approached Kg'Shar, braying nervously. He brayed back frenziedly and galloped after the general towards a window of the massive spire.

“No,” He said despondently in English, “This is too soon. They've breached the main gates.” He turned to his general, “Slow them down! we must not be stopped from fulfilling our duty. The pact must be upheld.”

The General brayed and saluted, nodding once before galloping away. Kg'Shar waved his hand to the Inquisitor, “We must hurry. The Alai and the devils will be upon us before we know it; you must follow me.”

The Inquisitor nodded curtly and followed the Sh'lassen as he pulled a lever behind the teleportation platform, opening a secret door behind the rebel banner. Their hoary guide's path led to the outside of the spire, an ancient stone foot path following the building's outermost edge. Sulfurous acid winds whipped past at a hundred miles an hour, screeching angrily against a thin film of disruptive energy, the shimmering dust hinting at a path just wide enough for a single man to walk.

It was tough going. The uneven ground had never been properly sculpted into a path by the Sh'lassen, as their goatish agility having already made them perfectly suited to navigate the terrain. Susan's legs burned as she struggled to balance on loose rocks and jagged stone, not daring to risk touching the barrier. Instinct told her that it was not solid.

She muttered angrily to herself, thinking of horrible things she would like to do to Daul Hilder for dragging her along on his fool's quest, for exposing her to his secret shame. She could be back on Babylon 5 with a hot shower and some coffee beans from her own garden - oh God, she would literally killed for a warm cup of coffee.

Susan accepted Shan's outstretched arm, letting the man pull her up to the flat stone top of the spire before helping another of the Belzafesters to do the same. The roof of the spire was perfectly flat and featureless, without even a sign of wear or tear upon it. Kg'Shar walked to the center of it and clamped his hooves in a complex tattoo upon three upraised stones.

With a rumple of shifting stone, a spiral staircase appeared in the ground, leading down to god alone knew where. Kg'Shar waved his hand and smiled, “He waits.”

Susan blinked and looked at Daul, her eyes widening slightly. Daul's normally controlled emotions were a wreck, his overwhelming sense of fear and anticipation too great for even a seasoned veteran to contain. The man was terrified of whatever lay in that pit, terrified and he wanted her to know it. He was broadcasting his fear to her so that she wouldn't do anything foolhardy.

Susan unholstered both of her pistols as she followed the inquisitor down the staircase and into the chamber below. Pictographs lined the walls of the staircase, showing golden armored men surrounding a red cloaked king as he went from world to world. Sometimes the king was fighting monsters, sometimes the king was being worshiped by his subject, but the king always stood proudly over the stars guiding his people.

The stairwell went down for ten stories, showing darker and more frightening images as they went lower and lower. The dull buzzing of electronics grew louder as they approached the staircase's end. The pictographs glowed a dull green, reflecting the light of the massive holographic displays lining an enormous throne room. Images of the battlefield played on each screen, flitting by faster than Susan's conscious mind could register.

Human, Centauri, Narn, Eldar, Dilgar, and half-breed bodies rotated in the air, translucently projected off of the same holographic composition. Their pale skin was translucently showing the biology beneath, vital organs glowing red as the image focused on them one by one.

A huge obsidian throne, large enough for an Imperial Ogryn to sit in comfortably, stood at the far side of the room. It faced away from the newcomers as its occupant watched the skies above, observing the flow of the battle in space. A massive gilded gauntlet swiped from one side of the screen to the other with a single finger, focusing upon the Endless Bounty as it pirouetted through the enemy ships, annihilating a Dilgar battleship with its main guns.

Kg'Shar whispered in a terrified voice, “This one brings the fatebringer, my Lord. The pact is fulfilled.”

“So it is,” Replied a booming drone of articulate High Gothic. “You are relieved of your burden, Kg'Shar, and your debt.”

The gauntleted hand snapped its fingers and Kg'Shar's head imploded, his entire body dissolving down to its component atoms. The rebel melted down to a small puddle upon the floor as the armored man rose to his feet, wrapping himself in the thick red fabric of his cloak as he strode forward. The massive armored figure walked across the room slowly and purposefully towards Daul Hilder. He neither rushed nor tarried in his gait, simply gliding along the ground beneath the rich fabric.

“You are late.” The armored man stated firmly. “You were supposed to arrive two years ago.”

“Sorry to inconvenience you,” Daul's temper simmered. “I'll keep it in mind for next time.”

The armored man tilted his head, examining Daul from top to bottom. “I would have liked to spend time with you I think. You are an interesting specimen.”

“You and I both know that I wouldn't allow that.” Daul growled.

“You might try,” The man stated without any inflection. “You would fail.”

“Try me.” Daul growled.

“Another time perhaps.” The man chuckled slightly. “But at the moment, conflict serves neither of us.”

“What are your intentions?” Daul barked angrily.

“At the moment?” The man's reverberated voice hitched in apparent amusement. “The same as yours... to an extent of course.”

“How do I know that you're telling the truth?” The Inquisitor rejoined.

Before Susan could even blink, the man's body flew into motion, a hidden blade seeming to appear from nowhere as the armored man cut off the plasma gun off Daul's wrist and held the blade to the Inquisitor's throat. He looked at the astonished Inquisitor and raised his other hand, “Because killing you would be no more difficult than snapping my fingers.”

He snapped the fingers and Susan felt a deep and piercing cold through her body as the walls glowed orange. She could no longer feel the warp. She could no longer feel anything. Her stomach turned in on itself as she choked on her own tongue struggling to breathe.

Cairn opened fire upon the armored man, but his shells just dissolved into a thin barrier of purple opulence surrounding him. He stared at the Skitarii in boredom as it bashed against his shields, looking down at the Inquisitor bound by the man's will. “Have I made myself clear?”

“Yes,” coughed the Inquisitor, “Cairn, stand down. Everyone, stand down!”

The Skitarii reluctantly holstered his weapon as the man snapped his fingers again. “Good.”

Daul stood up on shaky legs, extending a hand to Susan. She growled in fury as her senses returned to her, glaring at the armored man, “Who the hell is this bozo?”

“That bozo,” Daul replied, his voice nervous, “Is a Triarch Praetorian.... a Necron...”

"Indeed," The Necron's optics flashed as he waved open his red cloak in an elegant flourish, exposing his skeletal frame. "Welcome to Kages Baknor, Palace of the Sekkun Dynasty."

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-04-13 02:45pm
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Youngling

Joined: 2007-03-20 12:27pm
Posts: 146
Frak me, its a no kidding Necrontyr. So some of them managed to avoid being under the C'tans thumb?



Given the respective degrees of vulnerability to mental and physical force, annoying the powers of chaos to the point where they try openly to kill them all rather than subvert them is probably a sound survival strategy under the circumstances. -Eleventh Century Remnant

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-04-13 04:07pm
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Youngling

Joined: 2010-09-16 02:13am
Posts: 93
Location: Leicester, United Kingdom
Satori wrote:
Frak me, its a no kidding Necrontyr. So some of them managed to avoid being under the C'tans thumb?


If you go by the most recent version of Codex Necrons, the Necrontyr successfully rebelled against the C'tan after the War in Heaven, and shattered them into shards. Few except the most senior Nectrontyr are truly sentient any more, but the C'tan have not had dominion over them for nearly 60 million years.

For a second, I almost thought that it would turn out to be the Emperor himself.



"Only a fool expects rational behaviour from their fellow humans. Why do you expect it from a machine that humans have designed?"

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-06-26 03:23am
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Joined: 2008-09-01 07:16pm
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Location: Fukuoka, Japan
The odious creature stared at the newly appointed Centauri Ambassador with mild disgust, flicking it's fat tongue over it's eyes to clear out the dust kicked up by opening the cabinet. Vir poked the oversized lizard with the handle of a broom in an effort to dislodge the creature from where it had apparently decided to nest in the large cupboard of his office.

The Lizard hissed twice, before fluttering it's blue flaps of calloused scales angrily. This was it's territory. Vir was trespassing.

Like most buildings in the nascent Imperial colony, nature had reclaimed the Ambassadorial residence of the Centauri with astonishing thoroughness. The staff left behind by the Centauri fleet had been minimal, ten Centauri Guardsmen and a sullen secretary from House Drogo. It was all they could do to make the residence livable with so few warm bodies on hand.

Vir contemplated asking one of the guardsmen to come in and shoot the creature as Londo Mollari swaggered into Vir's office, "Are you still dealing with that damnable creature?"

"It's starting to budge," Vir prodded it with the shaft of the broom, jostling the disinterested creature's excess girth. It narrowed it's slitted yellow eyes, trilling in irritation as it snapped at the shaft. With a jerk of it's neck the shaft snapped, cut clean along the razor sharp beak's edge. "Or not!"

Londo sprinted the distance to the cupboard, slamming the thick wooden door as Vir recoiled from a swipe of the beast's claws. It scratched angrily at the cupboard door's interior, hissing.

"Vir, perhaps this is a job best handled by men with training," Londo pushed his shoulder into the cupboard door as it bucked forward, twisting the deadbolt into place to prevent the creature's escape. "Training and guns. Large guns."

"I didn't want to hurt him." Vir sighed.

"It would seem that you achieved your goal most admirably, Mr. Cotto." Londo jibed. "The creature is most definitely uninjured. Whether we remain similarly healthy is up to the quality of this lock… hopefully the Centaurum didn't try to cut costs on that, it would be like them."

"Londo I don't know if I'm ready for this. I mean an Ambassador? Me? It's too much." Vir swallowed nervously. "I mean, you know?"

"Vir if you continue to fish for compliments I will be forced to deflate your already non-existent ego." The elder Centauri picked up a bottle of Imperial wine gifted from the Lady Sáclair from the table, opening it and sniffing the contents inquisitorially. Apparently meeting his standards in such things he poured a generous measure into two glasses. "Which would be a shame so early into your tenure. I would prefer to save that for your first major screw up, so that I can enjoy the privelage properly."

"I just -- " Vir interjected.

"I will hear no more of this insistent self deprecation. You will do fine Vir. The Imperials already like you, which is more than most Ambassadors can say. They trust you to some degree." He pointed to the bottle of Liquor. "This is a good vintage of wine. Not a great one. Not a spectacular one. A good one. Do you know what that means Vir?"

"That they didn't have much wine on hand?" Vir replied exasperatedly. "I'm not really a heavy drinker Ambassador."

"Vir. When I give a gift on behalf of our government I buy something extravagant. It has to be something that will showcase the might and majesty of our Republic. When I give a gift as an Ambassador or as a member of house Mollari I must be memorable, but not wasteful, in demonstrating my own importance to society." Vir sipped the wine before continuing. "But this, this is the sort of wine one does not keep in a cellar for generations to prove that you own the bottle. This is not a wine that is brought out for some special once in a lifetime occasion. This is a wine to be drunk, a wine to be enjoyed with a pleasant meal. It is a casual gift between equals."

Vir took a drink from his own glass. It was nice. Not the best he'd ever had, but a smooth earthy flavor. "You're sure?"

"You have much to learn Vir." Londo lounged in the chair of Vir's new office. "But you will do it. You are not as incompetent as you at first appear."

From Londo, it was high praise.

"I've taken the liberty of contacting the Homeworld and informing them of the situation. I admit they were surprised by your appointment to the position – but when I informed them that it was you or no-one else, well... not even the Homeworld was foolish enough to miss a chance at permanent diplomatic relations with the Empire." Londo shook his head, and slapped Vir across the shoulders. “Why are you so determined to fight this Vir? It is a good move for you, a smart move. Be happy, or at least pretend to be till I leave.”

“It just isn't me. I'm not – I can't be,” The younger Centauri pulled at his collar, trying and failing to cool his chest with the stiflingly humid air. “It's just – too important for me.”

“It is important Vir. It is extremely important.” The Ambassador swirled his wine, resting his hand upon the windowsill. Tropical birds trilled happily, flitting about the bright green foliage encroaching upon the settlement. “Vir, do you know why I was appointed to Babylon 5? It was not out of respect for my abilities and my position, I assure you. It was a joke. No one expected it to last more than a year. No one expected me to last more than a week. It was a final insult to end my career and destroy what remained of my honor.”

“I defied them, keeping going in spite of the insult to my honor. They laughed then, oh they laughed.” Londo turned from the window, raising his glass and leering happily as he chuckled in mirth, “But now? Now I am important. People seek me out, seek my favors. The fortunes of house Mollari are my own.”

With a sigh of exhasperated sympathy, he patted Vir's arm paternally. “You must never let them think that this job is – that you are – a joke. It must never be a joke to them, or to you. Our people are great, but we forget our limits. You have an opportunity to make yourself relevant, to make yourself capable. I expect great things of you Mr. Cotto.”

“But what about you?” Vir's mind returned to the devious man who now guided those same good fortunes Londo enjoyed, the snake Morden. “What will you do without me?”

“I am a grown man Vir!” Londo's voice cracked irritatedly. “I survived on my own for years of my life, the couple of months it will take to send me a new secretary will not kill me.”

“But-” Vir tried to get a word in edgewise, failing miserably.

“But nothing Vir.” The Ambassador downed his drink, slamming the glass on Vir's desk. “You will be here and you will do a good job of it too. I've promised the home office that you are a qualified Ambassador and I will not have you making a fool of me.”

Londo frowned, a hiccup working its way into his speech. “And – and I feel it would be better for you to be away from me Vir.”

“Ambassador?” Vir swallowed apprehensively.

“Vir, things are getting beyond my control. You've seen the signs, the Vorlon fleet attacking people, new powers arising that can destroy entire Narn fleets, and even the appearance of the Empire. The galaxy is changing, and not for the better I think.” Londo picked at his jacket, pulling a burr from it and flicking it to the floor. “I've allied myself with dangerous people Vir. People who will destroy anyone who is not a useful ally. I – I need you here Vir. I need you to be safe. I – I need someone I can trust in a position to enlist the help the of Empire if something should – should something happen to me.”

A hard rapping crack of a guardsman's knuckle upon the door to Vir's office silenced whatever reply he might have had. Vir looked to Mollari, briefly expecting the elder Centauri to speak, before remembering that they were in Vir's Embassy, not Mollari's.

He spoke a nervous, “Enter.” that earned him an eye-roll from Ambassador Mollari. He could expect a lecture from Ambassador Mollari on a properly scornful greeting in the near future.

The breast-plated guardsman strode into the room, saluting and declaring, “Ambassador Ta'lon to see you sir,” before turning on his heels, permitting a broad-shouldered Narn through the door.

G'Kar had appointed the singularly intimidating Narn to the rank of “interim-ambassador” until the Narn homeworld could select an appropriate diplomatic representative. Although he was probably the best choice from the Narn fleet on hand, Vir suspected that the decision had not been made in the best of faith by G'Kar.

The warrior was a curious choice of representative, as a bearer of the K'tok he could never permit his blade to be taken by another. Vir, thankfully, had been warned of Ta'lon's appointment with enough prior warning to issue a standing order to permit the K'tok blade and avoid diplomatic incident. The Guardsmen still eyed the blade disapprovingly but Vir doubted he had anything to fear from the other Narn.

In their time together on the Endless Bounty Vir had come to know him as a recalcitrant, irascible, and crotchety grimace of a man, never using five words when a decent grunt and glare would do just as well. He was, however, for all his apparent unpleasantness a surprisingly forward-thinking person and well respected by his Narn peers.

Ta'lon did not like the Centauri, but by all accounts he seemed to tolerate Vir. It was as much as anyone could hope for, Vir supposed.

“The Imperial is causing me problems,” Ta'lon interjected without preamble or greeting. “I assume he is causing you the same.”

“Yes,” Vir sighed. “He is.”

The 'he' in question was none other than Gaer Tiber, the cyborg in charge of New Belzafest's military. The sour tempered cyborg hated all aliens. He resented the embassies, the Centauri, the Narn and anything that wasn't a pure blood human. Gaer could not, of course, do anything overtly hostile to either the Narn or the Centauri while they had the blessing of both the Inquisitor and the Lady Sáclair but that did not stop a number of “accidents” from happening around the alien embassies.

Supplies disappeared. Predators made it past the security perimeter. All manner of local flora and fauna proved to be regularly too much for the Imperials to clear without specialized equipment, which of course could not be spared for weeks or even months. Individually none of these were enough to suggest malfeasance, but the accidents were happening with such regularity that they could be nothing other than intentional sabotage.

The Imperial had, of course, blamed it on internal strife with a displaced ethnic group, the “Amon Sui,” but it was obvious in the man's scorn that he was lying. Vir recognized that look of contempt. It was the same look his Uncle had whenever he'd spoken of the Narn.

“I've had to repair my tachyon array ten times in the past three days.” Ta'lon barked. “The flying skulls keep 'accidentally' flying into it's transmission dish. The man claimed that we were 'summoning them' with our foul machine spirits.”

“And what do you propose we do about it?” Vir looked to Londo. “Confront him?”

“Not unless you want to look like an idiot.” Ta'lon growled. “No, that would only result in more overt hostility from the man. We do not need to irritate the hound to stop him from biting us, we need only yell to the ones holding his leash. You have... connections that I cannot claim.”

Vir nodded. House Sáclair had a certain level of respect for him. And while he couldn't be sure of the Lady Sáclair, he knew for a fact that Ami Sáclair would be a sympathetic to his plight. “Do you want to be at the meeting?”

“Yes,” Growled Ta'lon. “I do.”

The electric lights flickered, spitting and hissing as they struggled to draw power. A distant screech of machinery howled out from the center of the settlement, mingling with the screeching binary prayers of Imperial Machine cultists.

“Great Maker,” Londo shoved his fingers into his ears. “What is that?”

“It would seem that the pillar they've been building in the town square is being put to use.” Ta'lon commented dryly, massaging his own ear with a gauntleted palm. “They do seem determined to make the loudest racket possible.”

“They ripped up most of the internal defenses we left behind,” Vir shouted over the noise. “They seemed to think they couldn't trust them.”

“Probably wise,” Londo admitted. “They were outdated by decades.”

A pillar of light shot up from the town center, a flowering ark of blue light emanating from the fifteen story tower and spreading out into the sky. A thin film of energy spread across the settlement in all directions for ten miles, providing a translucent canopy of protective force. Tiny motes of light rained down from the energy dome, dancing stars frolicking through the sky.

It was a shield, a shield that covered the settlement and then some.

“Great Maker,” Whispered Londo.

“It is a wall,” Ta'Lon growled. “Nothing more. Will, flesh, and minds will trump a wall no matter how impressive it might be.”

“I would very much like to see you defeat that with your blade,” Londo joked scathingly.

“I have defeated it.” Ta'lon replied. “I am already inside.”

The Narn nodded to Vir, “Arrange a meeting with they young Miss. Sáclair, before her mad dog takes it upon himself to correct that error.”

Vir nodded, staring from Ta'lon's blade to the now closed closet and back as a thought formed. “Ambassador Ta'lon. How well does a K'tok cut through scales?”

The Ambassador's lopsided mouth curved up into a grin, “The K'tok cuts through solid steel. Why?”

Vir explained his lizard problem over the sound of Londo's uproarious laughter. Let him laugh, the creature would finally be gone. The Narn Ambassador wiped tears of mirth from his eyes, sauntering over to the still rocking cabinet. “Come then Ambassador Vir, on to battle with your fearsome foe.”

At least one thing would go right today.

--0--0--0--0--0--0--0

Glowing with the baleful energies of Eldar sorcery, the construct cleaved its way through the hull with a curved scimitar. Smaller Eldar constructs swarmed through the hole, moving like nothing Magos Tuul had seen before. The necromantic machine-constructs of the Eldar were bulky things, monstrous machines summoned only in the direst of circumstances when soldiers were few enough that binding the ghosts of the dead to mortal form need be done.

The Eldar construct towered some five meters tall, a lithe and spindly skeleton of psycho-reactive plastics and glowing gemstones. It hovered in the center of the cargo bay four solar sails, glowing yellow material that shimmered like the wings of some giant insect. It's elegantly swooping chassis and elongated digits could barely be seen through the constant torrent of weapons-fire streaming from the shoulder mounted cannons.

These Eldar machines were not burdened with the sort of perpetual inaction he'd studied in theoretical xenomechanics. They flitted about the cargo bay on antigravity harnesses, as agile and vibrant as the Eldar pirates themselves. He swore angrily as a burst of superheated matter flashed across his refractor field, covering his optics with his arm reflexively even as the augmentics shut down to conserve his vision.

His optic nerves still recuperating from the flash of the explosion, the Magos activated a subcutaneous transmitter.

The sensation of using servitor skulls to provide him with vision was, at best, stomach churning. He watched himself hiding within the cargo crate as though he were observing from afar, the flickering green image of the battlefield as seen by the skulls focusing and blurring as constructs moved and were destroyed.

Though the mental image was bright green Tuul knew that the entire room was actually painted red with gore. Uncaring, unthinking and meticulous, the Eldar constructs had murdered everything in their path. Servitor, crewman and Ogryn alike had been gutted and gored in meticulous slaughter, filling what air had not already been sucked out into the gaping void of space with was filled noxious eldar poisons fatal to anyone unfortunate enough to pass through them.

Ducking back into the relative protection of a supply crate Tuul lashed out at the offending machine-construct, his plasma cutter severing the machine into two neat halves.

His oxygen gauge pinged twice, he was down to 80% of his oxygen supply. He could only sustain this level of physical exertion for another twenty minutes or so before he'd be forced to retreat or inject himself with the vial of liquid oxygen on his belt, which would only give him another ten minutes under duress. The servitors and other tech-priests would start to suffocate long before that though.

They had to repel these boarders, and fast. They were the worst sort of xenos constructs, well designed and deadly thinking machines. If he gave them a second's hesitation, they would win. They would win and the Endless Bounty would die.

But they would not have their victory, not until they ripped it from Tuul's cold, dead hands. A scion of Oita, he would not bow down to the whims of the Omnissiah's bane, the thinking machines.

Another construct advanced upon his position, the shimmering vision painted red by the limited intelligence of the servitor machine spirits. Tuul waited for the flickering image to get within six span of him before leaping out from cover and planting the blade of his halberd within the creature's chest, it spasmed twice in an effort to lift it's weapon before falling dead.

Tearing the halberd from the construct with a kick of his greave, the chest cracked open like a shattered walnut. A viscous green blood dripped down his blade in imitation of the blood seeping from the now shattered chest of the construct. It was neither organic nor entirely machine, internal organs of curious purposes intermixed with strange circuitry.

The magos had heard of such practices in rumors and the darkest of speculative reports. Splinter groups of the Eldar supposedly engaged in dark rituals and forbidden sciences to convert the raw matter of their victims into weapon constructs, to great and terrible effect. Tuul smashed the torso under his boot, enjoying the crunch as he toggled the command for the Tech-priests in the starboard quadrant to activate the Arco-flagellants.

Forced to respond to the charging mad-people, a quartet of Eldar machine-men took to the skies. They swooped upwards, dodging the meter long-shock whips of the flagellants. The quartet became a trio as one of the combat-servitor's caught an Eldar machine's leg with it's tentacles, dragging the xenotech construct into the frenzied berserkers.

It howled piteously as it was gored to death.

The flying trio shot Engsineer Kov in the face, as a cadre of heavy-bolter servitors caught them in a deadly crossfire. The Eldar constructs burst in an explosion of flame and alien matter.

The massive Eldar construct bellowed in sympathetic pain as it shot across the cargo bay, smashing through the cargo containers in an uncontrolled fury. Ignoring the heavy-bolter shells pockmarking it's hull, the construct annihilated the servitors with a swift swipe of the scimitar and a shot of the warp-energy cannons on it's shoulders. Eldar warp weaponry was as nightmarish a weapon that one could conceive. It opened a gateway to hell, literally dragging whatever was caught in it's blast to be devoured by the forces of evil in a dimension of eternal torment.

For a race that prided themselves on their own sophistication, their propensity for violence was beyond compare. The constructs chanted in psychically enhanced sing-song mocking symphony, tittering in the impossibly complex language of the Eldar as they attacked hither and thither, floating on their luminescent wings.

If the Tech Priests could just get rid of the larger construct Tuul was sure that the combat servitors would be a match for the Eldar machines but the contemptible xeno-dreadnaught just refused to die. Between a flickering field of psychic shielding and the constantly self-healing armor it was two steps short of invincible.

Tuul opened his optics, zooming in on the machine's wounds as the wraith-bone giant healed it's cracked and lacerated carapace in seconds. How did one kill something that could just shrug off a hellfire shell? The nearest lascanon was two decks down and welded to a broken Leman Russ. A close range melta-gun shot or melta-bomb might have done the trick, but the Magos wasn't willing to get within swinging distance of the construct's scimitar.

Come on, Tuul thought to himself as he grabbed a smaller construct with his servo arm, clamping down and crushing it with a hissing growl of piston pumping power. What would Kerrigan do?

Omnissiah but it would have been great to have Kerrigan and her top of the line war servitors right that second. The Ogryn based war-machines had been designed for precisely this sort of threat. But Omnissiah forfend that things ever go Tuul's way.

It was heretical to think it, but it seemed to Tuul the Omissiah's will provided more challenges than solutions as of late. A feeling all the more enforced as a lance of Eldar laser fire scored the pauldron of his armor, damaging the internal components to his augmentic limb.

Ignoring the “movement impaired” warning flashing across his optics Tuul tossed a fist sized ball through the air. It bounced off a cargo crate, flashing twice before a repulsorlift within the device launched it in the opposite direction.

Propelled by artificial gravit lift it whizzed behind Tuul, exploding in a ball of shrapnel to force a pair of constructs out from where they'd been attempting to sneak up behind him.

“Oh no you damn don't,” Tuul barked, grabbing the barrel of a construct's rifle with his adamantium fist. With a bellow of fury Tuul yanked the construct forward to block the wraithcannon shot from it's companion.

As the bubble of warp energy disappeared, taking the construct's head along with it, the Magos slew the second construct with his halberd. Tuul's heart stopped as the massive construct turned it's oblong head in his direction, aiming its cannons.

He leapt to the side, deactivating the magnetic clamps in his boots to take advantage of the loss in artificial gravity near the torn hull as he dodged a salvo of warpcannon fire from the massive construct.
Soaring through the, he felt the cold cloying screech of the warp. The swirling black mass of darkness undulated with thousands of shadowy limbs and tortured faces before snapping back where it came from, repelled by the gellar fields of the ship.

So close to the hull breach, the vacuum of space sucked at his remaining flesh. Wet pops snapped from where the vacuum was yanking at the pink meat attached to his augmentics. Rivulets of the viscous fluid he'd replaced his blood with seeped from the open wound on his thigh, but not rapidly enough to worry him.

He still had 95% of his reserves intact according to his HUD, it wouldn't be till the 80% mark that he'd need to worry. Tuul landed hard, wincing as a piston in his leg cracked from the impact. A 10% loss in functionality to his left leg, damn. He wouldn't be able to dodge the next shot.

The massive construct aimed it's cannons to Tuul, only to shift it's attention to a furious arcoflagellant at it's back. The crazed servitor whipped, bit, and tore at the construct's face and neck, shattering one of it's translucent wings and scoring the wraith-bone armor of it's leg.

Making a mockery of the thick helmet upon the poor creature's head, a swipe of the giant scimitar spread arco-flagellant brains across the deck. The massive xeno-dreadnaught's swipe had been wide, exposing it to the four other combat-servitor's at it's flanks.

Tuul did not waste the opportunity to assess his surroundings. There had to be something in the Omnissiah forgotten cargo bay that he could use to kill the spiteful thing. His optics lingered upon the gaping hull breach behind him.

Of course!

By the will of Mars, why hadn't it occurred to him sooner?

Tuul activated the transmitter in his head, tapping at the side of his face with his thumb and forefinger to activate the pressure sensors as he wirelessly tapped into the ship's battle-net. It was a dangerous move, he wouldn't be able to move his actual body at the same time that he was engaging in the virtual space of the Endless Bounty's machine spirit.

He hand only minutes before the construct would crush the arcoflagellants and then him.

Tuul soared through the data pillars of the network, authorizing and re-authorizing his credentials to the agitated data-angels protecting the ship's spirit. The blessed spirit constructs growled and gnashed their teeth, agitated by the battle and their master's anger but they allowed him to weave through the thousands of pathways that lead towards what he needed.

Tuul hovered within the sensor net, watching the hazy shape of the Endless Bounty as it saw itself. A chaotic mess of sensor images and system updates combined into a single image of the majestic ship swimming through space in glorious battle. But it was not the great predator that interested Tuul, it was the flitting forms of lesser green ships around it. Hundreds upon hundreds of smaller ships flurried about the Endless Bounty like a swarm of angry insects, fighting, killing, and dying with equal fury.

Tuul picked the ship best suited for the duty he had in mind, reaching out with his presence to touch the machine spirit of the fighter wing's leader. He felt the lesser machine spirits, weaker spirits by far than that of the Endless Bounty and appealed to them. He offered them prayers of supplication and authorization, humbly entreating them to allow him access to their pilots.

Their data-angels were furious at the intrusion, rejecting him reflexively for fear that he might be an attacker. Tuul winced as they slashed at his fingertips from their little green dots, forcing his own implants to resist the damage. He tried a more ham-fisted approach, throttling them with a string of logic borrowed from Kerrigan's archives. The data-angels struggled, but ultimately were forced to acquiesce.

Tuul touched the spirits of the fighters, reaching out to their comms with his mind as he broadcast his thoughts into their speakers, “This is Magos Tuul. Authorization Gulf-Zeta-Emperor-1-4-5-Mars-Mars-Tyranid-Warp. Acknowledge.”

A confused voice spoke back, replying in shock. “Uh... Acknowledged Magos.”

“I have a live fire situation,” Tuul thanked the Omnissah for his luck. He'd feared that the ECM might distort his words beyond understanding. “I will be laser painting a target for you on deck 38 cargo bay G-36 marker sixteen. Bring on the thunder. Transmission band 120.2.3.45.21.0001Mars.”

“Repeat Magos?” The pilot leader replied in confusion. “You want me to fire on the ship?”

“What is your name boy.” Tuul growled.

“Flight Wing Captain Marcos Magos.”

“Well Flight Wing Captain Marcos. If I do not get the fire when I paint my target and the Eldar kill me I promise that my last act on this earth will be to log your execution into the duty roster for the Inquisitor.” Tuul didn't want to scare the boy, but he didn't have time for this. “Am I understood.”

“Crystal clear sir.” The fighter pilot replied. “Transmission band 120.2.3.45.21.0001Mars. ETA ten seconds.”

Tuul snapped back to his body as the torso of a servitor smacked the bulkhead next to him. No longer burdened by gravity, the impact caused rivulets of servitor to burst into hovering balls of gore and offal. Tuul waded through the cloud of liquified servitor, pointing his index finger at the construct. A thin green beam of light shone from his fingertip, shimmering on the chest of the Eldar machine.

The construct's formerly pristine form was cracked and lacerated from dozens of electroshock whip impacts. The warp cannons hissed and spat where they'd cracked. It hovered lopsidedly on it's shattered wings, but even as it brandished its scimitar in unspoken menace Tuul could see that the damages were rapidly disappearing. The construct stared contemptuously at Tuul, growling as it slunk towards him.

The cannons, less damaged than they'd first appeared, hummed with the thread of warp discharge. The creature pointed to Tuul with it's blade, psychically growling in what could only be described as a laugh.

It was gloating.

“Mine's bigger.” Tuul clicked his thumb in imitation of the hammer falling on a subber pistol, shouting through the screeching hiss of escaping gasses rushing into space.

Five beams of concentrated energy tore through the open hull of the ship, a torrent of lasfire guided by Tuul's laser painted target that exploded into a corona of green atomized matter. The giant Eldar construct screeched and howled, it's psychically enhanced voice screeching in sing-song incomprehension.

It lashed out with it's blade as it died, catching Tuul at the waist and eviscerating his bowels.

Warnings flashed across his HUD, disabling his pain sensitivity as the bundle of synthetic guts fell from his belly and onto the ground. He ripped the scourged intestine from his chest, more irritated than worried for his health. A series of redundant augmentics in his torso would serve as a temporary digestive system.

Tuul stared at his crushed bowels spread about the shattered remains of the Eldar giant and assessed the damage as a pair of Tech-priest Enginseers dragged him out from the cargo bay and to their forward defense point.

“Omnissiah's bane,” Tuul snarled, “The bastard got all four synthetic kidneys.”

The tricky devices required an artificer Magos of Kerrigan's skill or better, meaning that he would have to do without. Tull would survive the wound to his body, but he wasn't sure that his ego would survive Faest Nor's smugness at replacing broken synthetics with vat grown flesh.

-=-=-=-

It was the sudden and unnatural breeze that warned Captain Xingjiang trouble was afoot. The airflows of a star-ship were static, one always knew in which way the wind blew. Acting on instinct he ducked to his right, shielding his face from a blinding pocket of starlight in the center of the bridge.

Where once had been nothing but empty space stood a trio of soldiers, two hulking beasts flanking a feline alien in combat fatigues - well, one and a half. The leftmost giant seemed to have had less luck that his fellows. His lifeless eyes stared confusedly up from where his body had materialized halfway through the deck, killing him most soundly.

Unfazed by their compatriot's half formed and mutilated apparition, the strike team attacked. Klaus barked in shock as a half meter long pincer flung him from where he stood to collide with the bulkhead.

The bridge crew scrambled to unholster their PPG, unprepared for the sudden intrusion. Major Kria fumbled with the fasters on her holster. Fingertips slipping on the leather as a barbed tentacle whipped across her chest, the woman's abdomen and left breast parted from her body. Wet squelching gurgles were the closest thing she could muster to a scream.

Furious at the death of their companion, the bridge crew opened fire on the giant, eight PPG pistols flash frying the giant into charred monster. It died in instants, but it's survival had never been the point.

The heavily armored Dilgar had not stood idly by to watch the giant, charging towards Captain Xingjian with a laser rifle. The deadly orange beam sliced through Li's uniform, burning through the cotton fabric and searing the flesh of his back, shot driven wide as the gunnery-chief pushed the barrel up. The Dilgar assassin hissed in apoplectic rage as the chief swung on the heels of his magnetic boots and flung the alien towards Xingjiang.

“滚蛋 you cat faced bastard!” Captain Xingjian punched the Dilgar shock-trooper in the face, enjoying the crunch of flimsy cartilage as rivulets of blood sprayed across the bridge. Digging deep into the alien's ribcage with his serrated combat knife the Chinese man swiped up and across, jabbing the knife in and out as he went.

He kicked the corpse upwards, propelling it out the door of the bridge before shouting to his XO, “Are you alive?”

“Lamentably yes,” The persnickety German officer groaned, massaging a llesser plasma burn on his shoulder. “Where the blazes did that come from?”

“I do not know Xi approached the malformed body of the giant who had not been dead on arrival, shoving it with his foot and marveling at the clean cut across it's flesh. The giant's body seemed to have ruptured at a precise and perfect imitation of the floor beneath it, skull, bones and offal matched to every crack and imperfection in the ground.

On a hunch Li tapped his link, “Major Danvers.”

“Yes Captain,” Replied the Major.

“I need you to go directly below the bridge, to the forward light arms armory, and tell me exactly what you find on the ceiling two meters from the door.”

“Sir?” The Major replied.

“You heard me,” Li glared at the bridge crew. “脑残! The hell are you standing around for? Do you think they stopped the battle so that we could catch our breath? Get back to your posts or we're all going to die.”

Klaus shot Li a dirty look over the shoulder of a medic seeing to his wound, professional disapproval etched into the hard lines of his face. He though Li was being too hard on the men? Bah - better to be abused and alive than slow and dead.

A bemused Major Danvers called Li's link in a mix of confusion and revulsion. “Captain, I – I found – I don't know what I found.”

“Half an unidentifiable creature's corpse hovering in zero gravity with wounds parallel to the ceiling?” Li replied, his suspicions confirmed.

Major Danver's paused in pregnant surprise, “ – Uh... yes Sir. That is exactly what I found.”

“Those unbelievable 該死” Li hissed in fury, “They've figured out how to teleport.”

“Oh, that is just spectacular,” Lt. Meyer winced, halting his speech as a dressing was applied to his mangled shoulder. “They've got Vree technology?”

“I don't think so. It doesn't match the intel we have on Vree tech,” Li strapped himself back into his seat. “The Vree despised the Dilgar as much as anyone else, and their teleportation tech is their strongest military edge.”

Li stared at the tactical display, observing the shimmering form of the massive, winged dagger ships. “No this is something we've not seen be – AFT THRUSTERS FULL REVERSE.”

Already jittery from the attack the helmsman smashed the emergency propulsion reserves into action, spinning the Beijing Beauty out of the way of a dart ship's cutting beam. Warning kalxons screeched as a monotonous mechanical voice repeated “Hull breach in aft corridor six. Hull breach in aft corridor six.” on an endless loop.

“Shut the bulkheads to that corridor and send a repair crew to the levels above and below that corridor to double check that there aren't any fractures in the deck. The last thing we need is to be venting oxygen in addition to every other damned thing,” Klaus hissed into his link, a pained edge to his speech.

“Do we have a firing solution on those 死屁眼 ships yet?” Li turned to the surviving ops officer. The exhausted young man mopped his brow with the sleeve his uniform, wiping away the thick beads of sweat. The dark skinned officer chewed his lip, tilting his head slightly in meaningless assent. Li's temper snapped, “Ensign, yes or no, can we fire on the targets?”

“I... I'm not sure sir.” The Ensign scratched the back of his head in thought. “I – we studied how to get through Minbari ECM in training sir. It was basically all we studied in theoretical xeno-warfare. We never managed to get through it.”

“So you can't,” Klaus interjected.

“I have a theory sir. Just a theory.” The Ensign pointed to the tactical HUD in the main view-screen. “These dart ships are way more advanced than the Minbari ships but they seem to have been designed to deal with a radically different set of sensors than the Minbari ships were. The computers can't even seem to see the distortions in spite of there being seemingly nothing to target.”

“Get to the point.” Li sighed.

“Sir... what if the problem isn't our sensors. What if we are the problem.” The Ensigh raised his hands placatingly at Captain Xingjian's incredulous glare. “Hear me out sir. The ground chatter is talking about some serious telepathic warfare on the ground. We know that the Empire can use telepaths to send messages and they seem freaking terrified of these new guys. What if there isn't actually anything wrong with our targeting sensors.”

“What do you propose,” Li cringed as a Dilgar missile burst off the side of the Beijing Beauty, prompting a new set of warning klaxons and monotone damage reports.

“Sir our SOP when we encounter any sort of ECM is to verify the targets of our automated targeting computers manually to make sure that they're not firing at empty space. Whenever we do that our gunners are seeing a dozen different ships moving faster than the eye can follow,” The Ensign shrugged, “Why don't we try just letting the ships computers have a go?”

“It can't possibly do worse than we are already doing,” Li nodded in assent. It was a total breach of protocol and a violation of every single Earth Alliance military doctrine in dealing with electronic counter-measures, but needs were musts. Li pulled a data crystal out from his pocket and handed it to his XO “I'm authorizing that the ship's weapons be put in the hands of it's AI. Make it so Mr. Meyer.”

The XO took the crystal and produced one of his own, nodding solemnly as he floated over to the primary targeting computer. The German officer inserted both crystals into the data ports of the system, turning them a quarter turn to the right and speaking into the computer's mic, “Gunnery override six-zero-five authorization Meyer-nine-one-Beijing. All guns to main computer, full emergency military authorization.”

The computer hummed in effort, unused to processing this much tactical data at once. The monotonous warnings of damages and danger onboard the ship drifted off into bellicose silence as every single byte of spare memory onboard was repurposed.

The forward laser cannons fired, shooting to a seemingly empty pocket of space behind a Dilgar cruiser. The energized particles exploded within the empty void, piercing the veil of shadows and crushing one of the smaller dart ship's solar sails and bursting it's engines. The ship drifted listlessly towards the planet's atmosphere, spiraling through towards the planet's ocean in a brilliant corona of fire.

It had been an escort ship no larger than a Hyperion cruiser, but they'd hit it. They weren't fighting blind any more. “Send a message out on an encrypted channel to anyone who isn't dead yet. We need to press this advantage while we can we – oh … oh no.”

Li grabbed onto the arms of his seat as the bridge bucked starboard, forced to the side as one of the massive black bio-ships collided with the Bejing Beaty. He watched the external cameras in horror as tentacles half a kilometer long wrapped their way around the ship as the spidery protrusions from the black ship perforated the Beijing Beauty's hull.

“Can we still contact the rest of the fleet?” Klaus shouted over the growling screech of organic protrusions penetrating steel.

“No,” Replied the comms officer. “Tachyon transmitters are down... engines are down, everything is down.”

“We're being boarded sir!” The ops officer swore in a language Li did not recognize as he tried to activate every bulkead on the ship. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph they're just pouring through the hull.”

“Is the self-destruct still operational?” Li growled.

“Sir?” Klaus swallowed nervously.

“No sir,” Replied the Engineering officer. “Self-destruct is in-operational.”

“What about the nuclear arsenal?” Li checked the charge on his phased plasma pistol, 40% power remaining before he'd have to reload.

“Unknown sir. I'd assume the warheads are intact.” The Ensign replied. “The magazines are well armored.”

“Can we detonate those remotely?” Klaus queried, a nervous hitch in his throat at the idea of it.

“Negative sir,” The Ops-officer shook his head. “All ship-board comms are fried. We'd have to do it manually.”

“Well then, what are we waiting for?” Li stood up. “Grab any weapons you can find and follow me. We're heading for the ship's magazines.”

“Sir.” The nervous comms officer swallowed, “I – I don't want to – I'm not ready to die.”

“We're attached to one of the largest vessels in the Enemy fleet. We have no weapons and engines.” Li growled in recalcitrant fury, “You've heard the ground reports of those things. There are likely thousands of them in a ship that large. They will kill, rape, and eat anything that they find on this ship. Hopefully in that order. If I can blow the monsters to hell then I'm going to do it.”

He looked to his soldiers, staring each of them in they eyes in turn. “The part of the ship they're entering through is between us and the escape pods. It's between us and the shuttles. There is no escape. You can die like heroes or quiver like cowards. The choice is yours.”

Non-one said a word.

To a man they followed him out the door and towards the forward magazines. It was a shame that nobility always seemed to come right before a man's demise, if people acted half as worthy as those who knew they would die Li might actually have liked his fellow man.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Glimmering, skeletal figures emerged from thin air. Seeping in through the wisps of air that snuck past cracked walls, the silent figures carried baroque and curious weaponry. They moved without noise or pretense, their xenotech-steel greaves preternaturally silent.

The Necron were a mystery to the Empire. Till a hundred years ago they'd been a product of rumor and speculation, isolated incidences and unexplained battles with mechanical raiders. They were a bed time story for border worlds, the skeletal men who stalked the stars. Reapers of flesh and bone, the murderous species had a soulless hatred for the fleshy beasts who wandered in view of their great necropoli.

“Blood of the Emperor's betrayal,” Daul Hilder hissed the most potent oath he knew. “This is a Necron Tomb World?”

He identified at least five distinct models of Necron in the room, though none seemed to conform to any of the blurry battlefield recordings of the Black Templar crusade upon the Tomb planets of Axxa VII or the Blood Angel's extensive recordings of Necron troop movements. This was out of his depth, there were only one or two Inquisitors in the entire Empire qualified to make any practical assessment of the Necron menace.

Omnicidal, immortal and posessing technologies beyond the wildest dreams in the hearts and minds of the Adeptus mechanicus, it was by the grace of the Emperor alone that the Praetorian had not flayed them alive.

Vira'capac hissed in horror, raising his weapon to shoot the Necron and prompting the Sh'lassen goat-man to do the same. The Necron waved a finger at the pair of them with an almost lazy sigh, activating energy field generators around the pair to freeze them in place. “I should hate to have to kill your adjuncts before we'd finished speaking Inquisitor, it would make you less willing to accept our terms.”

“I doubt I have much choice in accepting or rejecting your terms.” Daul massaged his damaged augmentic limb reflexively, running a gauntleted hand over the exposed wiring. “Your people do not negotiate, they demand.”

“It is greatly refreshing to encounter someone who knows to give their betters proper deference and realizes why that deference is due.” The Praetorian's mechanical drone hitched in imitation of amusement. “Especially from a race so talented at irritating the puppets of our oppressors. Your men have demonstrated a unique and admirable hatred for the Alai.”

He waved his gilded fingers towards the holographic displays, summoning a thousand hovering images of the League Coalition and Imperial forces clashing with Eldar warriors. The Eldar were killing men by the hundreds, gleefully butchering human and alien alike. “It's a shame that their skill and ability does not match their impetuous defiance. There are few joys as glorious as watching Alai be defeated by primitives. Not that you can kill them I suppose, but the injuries are amusing to watch.”

“I can assure you that I've killed my share of Eldar.” Daul replied, centering himself around the memory of killing the xenos earlier that day. There were no xenos beyond the Emperor's justice, even the mightiest of them could be beaten. Even the Necrons could be beaten – not easily, but it could be done.

“You genuinely do believe that don't you?” The Necron's optics twitched, a vestigial memory of the flesh it had once been. It was an echo of what might have once been laughter. “Allow me to enlighten you. The children of Asuryan are but one breed of many weapons. They are not flesh.”

The Necron waved it's hands, summoning the holographic eldar to spin about his body, tiny dancing figures weaving and bobbing around his crimson cloak to shimmer along the glitteringly golden necrodermic armor.

“They have bodies, but the bodies are irrelevant. It's skin. A mask.” A bitter echo etched it's way into his whispering lilt, “The soul persists. The soul always persists. Yet another joke of the enemy, making weapons with the gift they deny their betters.”

He grabbed the holographic image of an Eldar aspect warrior, crushing the energy projection within his gauntleted fist, mashing his golden fingers as though he were crushing the Eldar within his grasp. A few pregnant seconds passed while the furious Necron muttered to himself in his native language, lost in his hatred for the Eldar.

The machine was clearly rampant, raving, perhaps even insane. It was not unheard of for the mechanical men to resurrect in states of semi-coherence, trapped in their former memories of past wars. It may well not even wholly remember which battle it currently fought.

As long as the Necrons delusions left it agreeable to talking rather than indulging in the bloodthirsty pastimes of his race, Daul was in no hurry to disrupt the flow of conversation. Every second the Praetorian spoke was a second longer to figure out an escape.

The Belzafester soldiers shifted nervously, eying the necron soldiers behind their war-party with apprension. For fear that one of them might get them all killed, Daul willed the thoughts not yet towards the trigger happy soldier's mind, “What name do I call you?”

“I have none – well, none fit for primitives to speak.” The Triarch Praetorian sheathed his blade into a pocket of empty air, concealing the blade within a space unseen. “What you decide to call me is none of my affair. I have little interest in the affairs of lesser cattle. But the path was chosen, and I will walk it.”

“What path?”

“Inquisitor Hilder, your coming was known to us, to me. It is no accident that I am at this remote scrap of useless turf. It is no accident that fifteen such remote scraps of nothing are being torn asunder by the unseen one.” The Necron's eyes flashed, anger coloring the monotonous drone of his voice. “It is no accident that the Alai have been told of our hidden places and we awake before the prescribed end to our slumber. Someone searches for that which should be forgotten.”

“Dead gods should stay dead.” Hissed a diminutive skeletal cyclops – a cryptek perhaps – as he leaned upon a tall staff. Still a head taller than the largest of the humans, this new Necron hunched over as though bowed with age. An illusion of feebleness to be sure, thearter for the benefit of their human audience.

His aged silk cowl quivering with the movement of miniature gears and servo-motors, the hunched Necron slammed his staff but on the cold stone twice, hissing like a boiling kettle. A garbled mess of screeching warbles and groans mixed together in grotesque parody of language, a murdered parody of the Adeptus Mechanicus prayers.

The Skitarii snarled in response, his furious binary punctuated with a hand gesture that required no translation.

The Inquisitor's heart raced as he steeled himself for the worst. He willed a subtle suggestion towards his apprentice, expressing with though faster than he could ever have hoped to say with simple words. Daul might be able to take out the gloom crystals closes to Susan, giving her time to kinetically implode the door-frame and let at least some of the men escape this death trap of a room.

A weak feeling of assent replied, Susan's abilities with the mental arts left much to be desired. No patience for the subtle nuance of the human mind, Susan's destructive potential would likely always outstrip her telepathic ability.

“Inquisitor, you do realize that the crystals can detect any psychic discharge in their presence? I know you're speaking with the other mind walker.” The Necron spoke a tone of near amusement, as it looked between Daul and Susan “I would greatly appreciate it if you would stop planning ways to kill me and my soldiers, Inquisitor.”

The cryptek trilled in it's whispering screech, “We are making great allowances for your primitive foolishness, but our patience is not limitless.”

“You'll pardon my rudeness,” Daul cleared his throat apprehensively. “It is a habit of my profession.”

“I would have been offended by your cowardice had you not tried.” The massive Necron sighed. “It would have been a shame to consider you a dishonorable foe. I do hate to slaughter those who are still of use.”

“And what use would that be?” Daul queried.

“We have a common enemy Inquisitor, a common goal.” The Triarch Praetorian snapped his fingers, prompting a shimmering apparition of Soren Faust to hover between them. It glared at the two of them in unimpressed disapproval, bloodless face and pale skin stretched across ancient features. “It is my intention that you, your allies, and your quest succeed and prosper.”

Cackling in what could have been either laughter or pity, the hunched Necron rolled it's cyclopean optic, tittering incomprehensibly. The Triarch Preatorian nodded once and held out his arm towards Daul, “Of course your eminence. The time of primitive words has ended. What need be spoken hath been spake. It is time.”

“Time for what precisely?” Susan's calm voice pierced the calm stillness after the Praetorian's pronouncement. Steady hands held her pistols at her sides, low enough that they could be brought to bear at a second's notice without appearing aggressive. There was not even a hint of worry in her stance.

She – Throne almighty – Susan Ivanova wasn't afraid of the Necrons.

They were just another alien to her. An unusual alien perhaps but she'd spent so much of her adult life surrounded by xenos that she lacked the instinctual fear of the metal men. For that matter, would she even know to fear a thinking machine? The Alliance employed numerous primitive machine minds in their daily lives.

Of all the Throne cursed times for her to not have one of his memories, why did it have to be his survival instincts in dealing with the children of Necrotyr. Susan stared into the Triarch Phaeron's glowing optics without flinching, awaiting an answer.

The cyclopean Necron laughed, a hollow and whistling sound. “The young races of this generation are bolder than I recall.”

“The Nightbringer's image holds only the meagerest of holds upon them. It is to be expected.” The golden Praetorian adjusted it's cloak, pulling a glowing crystal from it's folds. “The Praetorian orders can only guide chattel so far without drawing the attention of the enemy. We cannot all operate within the dimlit pocket realities of the Diviner.”

The Necron held the crystal out to Daul between two taloned fingertips, the fragment pulsating with an eery green light. “I propose an alliance. I shall grant you the peace of the Silent King upon you and yours. We shall take what is owed to the Dynasties and crush the children of Asuryan to dust.”

“I assume that you are planning to kill me if I refuse.” Daul eyed the crystal suspiciously, even touching Necron technology was a dangerous prospect. The slightest touch of Necron xeno weaponry could enslave the mind and destroy the soul. Mindshackle scarabs, brain wiping subatomic particles or any one of a million of the cruelties of the Necrons could be visited upon those who agreed to an “alliance” with the Necron menace.

The Necrons did not have allies, only victims for a later date.

“Slaughtering your forces would be inefficient. I would prefer that they lived to spread what they see here today, to prepare your races for our inevitable dominion.” The Triarch Praetorian waved around the room, clicking in the curious necronese. The baroque weapons of the Necron soldiers hummed to life, glowing green arks of lightning spluttering and dancing with fatal purpose within their scythe-tipped-rifles.

“You prefer to explore the alternatives?” The Cryptek queried, a slight joking edge to his monotony.

“An alliance it is,” Daul took the crystal from the Triarch Praetorian's grip. The tiny sliver of crystal in his palm seemed to hold the weight of the universe as he slipped it into a pocket of his tabard.

“Well then Inquisitor,” The Cryptek's monotonous hiss broke into a cackle of murderous glee. “It is time to go to war.”

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

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 Post subject: Re: The Circle Must Be Broken (40k / B5) PostPosted: 2013-06-26 03:24am
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The Eldar throwing-blade nicked the edge of David's chest, alien poisons eating away at the metal with a voracity matched only by the noxious gasses expelled in the reaction. He screeched in horror, ripping at the straps of his breast-plate to tear the sizzling mess of ceramics across the deck before ducking back into the cover of the med-bay doors.

“Get back you foolish boy,” Donat's fusillade scorched the hall, narrowly missing the offending xenos who'd tossed the blade, “Get back and get another round in that useless sack of flesh.”

The Med bay had been designed to funnel any attackers into a choke point, a narrow passage that could not be easily traversed without coming into view of the two gun servitors wedged into murder-holes along the walls. Low velocity bolter shells wouldn't pierce the hull, but their chemical cores would dissolve whichever boarder was foolish enough to get into their firing range.

While they were more than capable of aiming themselves, they were lamentably unable to reload on their own. This mean that every twenty shots either Donat or David would have to rush out of cover and manually reload the platform with chem-rounds. Right now the only thing standing between the civilians and injured currently behind the sealed bulkhead were two human lives.

David slapped the drum magazine into the fixed gun mount, hoping against hope that the emergency refractor field attached to his belt would stop what his breast-plate could stop no longer. The heavy canister slurped loudly as the air pressure within the gun changed, propelling one of the fist sized canisters down the hall to explode into a chemical inferno.

David rushed back into the cover of the med bay, massaging the chemical burns on his chest tentatively. His fingers stung slightly from the contact with the wound, “Throne!”

“Is it bad?” Donat tossed a tube of synthetic skin over to David, watching as the younger man stripped his shirt.

“It's poisoned I think.” David felt a stab of pain shooting through his chest as he sprayed syntha-skin over the wound. The white foam bubbled and sizzled across it's surface, reacting to whatever chemicals had been on the knife. “I – Throne that hurts.”

“Not poison, just acid I suspect.” Donat fired at a shadowy figure that popped it's head around the bend, cracking it between the eyes. It hissed, wounded by not dead. Not an Eldar to be sure. The knife ears had allies? “Eldar poisons are potent, if you'd been hit with one you'd already be writhing on the floor in agony. The vicious bastards aren't fond of waiting.”

“Aren't they immortal?” David pulled out a syringe of general combat stimulants, a cocktail of immune boosters and synthetic adrenaline to keep him going. The needle went into his thigh smoothly, though his hands shook as he depressed the activator on the single use injector.

“You'll find that those who've waited longest are often the least patient once close to achieving their goal, young Sáclair. People ignore the longer term solutions, the better solution, when trying to get what they want right that second,” Donat pulled a cigar from his breast plate and chewed on the end of it. He did not light it, that would have given away their position, but just having the tobacco between his lips seemed to have a calming effect upon his demeanor. “No, for all their talk of eternity and permanence, the Eldar are as trapped in the moment as any of us.”

“They're welcome to say impatiently trapped in the moment,” David replied, “So long as they stay trapped on the other side of that corridor.”

“How are we doing for ammo?” Donat shifted the cigar from one side of his lips to the other, sucking at it as though he were actually smoking it. He took the tube from his mouth and exhaled a phantom smoke cloud, relaxing in to the motion. It was as close to misbehaving as the man had likely ever indulged in.

“I've got another two charge cells and we've got six reloads for the servitor guns,” David did the math in his head. “So if we keep going at the rate we've been going -”

“We'll last for another ten minutes before they overtake us and slaughter us.” The ship's first mate replied wearily. “Well, that's just wonderful.”

“The med bay doors should last long enough for Osma's men to break through and save them though.” David replied. “That's what matters.”

“Yes – yes that is what matters,” Donat rubbed at his immobile cheeks. “A pity your uncle isn't here for this, he would have loved the thrill.”

David looked up in confusion. Nathaniel Sáclair's siblings were rarely spoken of by the Captain and his mother hadn't had an affair with the Captain early enough to meet them. David knew, of course, that they existed but knew little more than that. “My uncle?”

“Well, one of them anyway. The legitimate ones that is, your grandfather never would have acknowledged a bastard child – of the opinion that they were weaker and inferior I suppose.” He paused briefly to look at David, looking over the boy's wounds and discarded breast-plate. He snorted in what might have been mirth at looked David in they eyes conciliatory, “Even the Emperor was wrong once.”

David snorted at the dark humor about the Horus Heresy, firing down the corridor as he listened to Donat continue the story.

“Your uncle Fabian was the middle child from your grandfather's second wife, a real shrew of a woman who insisted upon keeping her title of 'Dutchess Azarnego.” Color seeped into the older man's cheeks, “I – uh – if your family asks who told you that it wasn't me.”

“We're going to die soon,” David replied, eyeing the ammunition count in the leftmost servitor. Six more shots before he had to reload. “I doubt it will come up in conversation with the knife-ears.”

“Right, well – The Dutchess didn't much like that Sáclair and his siblings were ahead of her boy to inherit the ship. She did all that she could to prove that the Lord Sáclair was unfit for power, started all sorts of rumors that he was a drunk and a lech and what have you.” Donat snorted. “The thing is that your uncle loved the rumors so much that he decided that Nathaniel was his favorite brother. The old shrew wasn't any nicer to her own brood than to her adoptive one, and the child was amazed by what his big brother could get away with. Nathaniel realized that it was far easier to become the rumors than it was to fight them.”

“I don't understand,” David blinked nonplussed. “Why would he do that?”

“There wasn't a story anymore. She'd start a rumor that he slept with a nobleman's daughter, Nathaniel would sleep with their entire family. She'd start a rumor that he was in drinking competitions with the Lionhearts so he'd go down and win them.” Donat chuckled. “You can't hurt someone with an identity they own. So Sáclair owned his role of the pirate king and groomed your uncle into his pirate apprentice.”

“My Uncle went with my father?” David queried. “Another thrill seeker?”

“Your uncle puts your father to shame. He was so determined to reject his mother that he started taking risks, huge risks, to defy her. The Dutchess would say left, so he'd go right just to spite her.” Donat's lips quirked in the ghost of a smile. “He'd lead defenders of the ship, charging any any all enemies armed with his blade, his greatcoat, and a witty challenge.”

“What happened to him?” David queried.

“He got beaten to death by a mob of Orks in the cargo bay for being jaw droppingly stupid enough to attack a group of them with nothing by a greatcoat, a blade, and a witty challenge. Bravery doesn't excuse foolishness,” Donat sighed sadly. “He was a powerful personality like your father, but his grox-headedness got him in the end.”

“Is someone going to talk like that about us when we're gone?” David shivered, two rounds left before he'd have to pop out and reload the servitor.

“The noblemen will, almost certainly, but they were going to gossip and criticize us for not cowering in our household's safe houses no matter what.” Donat smiled, “But Bonafila will mourn us, and your family will call you a hero. They called your uncle a hero as well. He delayed the mob of Orks long enough for the Lionhearts to slaughter them with auto-cannon fire.”

“I'd prefer not to die at all.” One round left before reloading.

The lights flickered as a nightmarish screeching whine of a klaxon echoed through the entire ship. The normal boarding klaxon shifted from red to a deep purple, flashing from red to purple to red then back again. A voice spoke a terrifying pronouncement in ancient Damascan.

The Endless Bounty's void shields had failed.

“We all have our time.” Donat replied, “We've been living on borrowed time since the Inquisitor pardoned us anyway.”

David lifted the ammunition cylinder, “The least we can do to thank the Emperor for that extra allowance is to take some xenos out in the process.”

“Even though we're likely all going to die when the ship goes up?”

“Of course.”

David stood, shivering for a moment before Donat asked, “Do you need me to push you?”

“Please, I'm too terrified to get my legs moving.”

Donat kicked, David moved, and the Eldar fired down the corridor once again.

-=-=-=-==-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Susan's eyes snapped shut in reaction to the abrupt shift in air pressure as the bright light shimmered across her body. Her body ripped backwards, pulled by an invisible hand gripping the back of her navel as it compressed her through a tiny pinprick of open space. Her body squelched through the point twisting and compressing through the empty space and back up into reality, ejecting her upon the cold ash-covered earth.

She landed hard, gasping in shock as Shan's elbow connected with her midsection. The entire Inquisitorial Retinue appeared from the air around her, haphazardly projected from thin air. The teleportation was messier than the first time they'd done it, less controlled and more painful.

They were at the edge of the battlefield, north of the main Centauri beachhead. Susan could just see the outline of the Eldar titan in the distance, a shadowy statue with the bird-like shape of Eldar tank formations flittering about it's body.

Susan shoved the larger man off of her, gasping in surprise as the no longer breathable air filled her lungs. The long talons of Vira'capac reached over her face, fitting the breathing mask in place before heading over to one of the Belzafesters and repeating the process.

“Throne ,” Shan hissed from where he sat upon the ground. Unaccustomed to the sensation of teleportation, the Belzafester patted every part of his body to double check that he'd come out in one piece. Apparently satisfied with his assessment he looked around the group, counting heads. “Is everyone alive?”

“Ask me later,” Susan groaned, coughing as her body expelled the unwanted methane from her lungs. “I'm still not convinced.”

The Skitarii helped Inquisitor Daul to his feet, weaving the openly damaged augmentic shut with his mechandrites in the process and sealing it from the elements. Cairn's normally jovial demeanor had ceased, an iron attitude of menace coloring his every movement. The man was displeased, though if he was more displeased by the presence of the Necrons or Daul's deal with them Susan could not say.

He was uncharacteristically silent to Daul's comment of “Thank you Cairn,” not even sparing the man his usual silently sarcastic jibe. Though it was probably distraction more than anger that caused the ire.

The ground beneath them shook and shivered, seismic irregularities inducing the geysers of the great plains to disgorge ten mile high pillars of spinning green flame. The pillars weaved about, guided by some unknowable mechanism, dancing through the air before smashing across the ground in molten whips of destruction.

The molten whips lashed around the arms and legs of the Titan, forcing the Eldar super-heavy vehicles to re-direct their fire in an attempt to free it.

“What sorcery of the nameless gods is this,” V'Clath whispered in fear. “What have we woken?”

“There is no sorcery at work V'Cath,” The Inquisitor stared out across the battlefield, “No sorcery, just science, the impossible sciences of Necrotyr.”

The ground rumbled and shook, pulsating as though it were water rather than earth and stone. The massive spire at the center of Matok cracked and crumbled, it's wide black face pierced by glowing runnels of unnatural viridian luminescence. The mountain started to spin like a top, flinging building sized hunks of earth to the battlefield. Soldiers on both sides struggled to avoid the massive stones as they collided to the ground, crushing anything beneath.

The spire of Matok burst, shedding it's centuries old skin of obsidian and revealing the true face of the fortress. A golden starship, larger still than the mountainside it hid in, rose from the earth. It was a steep and angular pyramid riding upon a crescent moon, a construction of alien mechanical wisdom.

It rose from the ground, ignoring the frenzied salvoes of weapons-fire from both armies. Even the eldar Titan's weaponry was as nothing to the shimmering energy fields collecting and coalescing around the shell of the interstellar pyramid.

It rose into the air, hovering above the battlefield through no obvious means of propulsion. It hung in the sky as though to defy the lesser creatures beneath it to comprehend how it disobeyed the physical constraints they labored within. It unleashed a single, screeching pulse of air, a noise so loud that it displaced the clouds of gas around it in the screeching garble used by the Necron Cryptek.

The two kilometer wide shaft left in the ground by the Necron starship shimmered, shifted, and disgorged a swarm of insects. The buzzing thrum of millions of metallic wings thundered across the gorge, heralding the beginning of the end for the Eldar Titan. The monstrous horde of Necron insects descended upon the Eldar Titan, literally devouring it.

Susan scrunched up her face as the Titan's pilot projected pleas for help, asking, ordering and finally begging for someone to assist him. She couldn't understand the Eldar language, but she understood his pain. She gasped in horror as she realized that the pilot was going to be eaten alive.

Daul rested his hand on Susan's shoulder, projecting an empathic barrier across her mind with the physical contact, “There are some things that even an Inquisitor need not explore.”

Susan watched the sands shift, disgorging glimmering figures she knew all too well were Necron foot-soldiers. “They're going to kill everything they see.”

“No,” Daul spoke slowly. His voice, already distorted by the vox-caster in his armor's helm, came out in the sort of halting jerks one might expect from someone struggling to catch a memory long forgotten. “The Triarch Praetorians are incapable of lying or deceit, and despise it in all forms. If they say that we will come to no harm then will come to no harm. It's – it's how they were built to be.”

“Inquisitor?” Susan replied, worried for the man's state of mind. Had the fear cracked him?

“I- I uh....” The Inquisitor cleared his throat, shaking his head to dispel the cobwebs from his mind. “The Triarch will keep his word. It would reflect poorly upon the Phaeron of whatever dynasty we've stumbled into if he broke a direct promise, especially one to help fight the Eldar.”

“Sir,” The Belzafest comms officer held up his portable vox caster. “We've got access to the Imperial comms channels. Your orders sir?”

“Tell them – Emperor have mercy upon my soul.” Daul looked out at the pillars of flame battling the half-devoured Titan, “Tell them that we're expecting re-enforcements.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Physical size was virtually meaningless in a zero gravity engagement. The normal physical advantages that one might expect from being a larger, faster, and stronger were, in fact, detrimental. It took years or even decades to re-train the muscles and mind to compensate for the sudden abdication of Newtonian constants, and even longer to be able to fight in them.

Li Xingjiang, never a patient man, had opted for a surgery in his youth to remove his sense of vertigo. It damaged his sense of taste, but he'd never once regretted the decision. He was a small target in the best of situations, that paired with his surgically enhanced ability to move in open space gave him a huge boost.

Li bounced off the conference room wall, kicking hard to shoot past the half-breed creature aiming for him. The creature, more vicious than well trained, struggled to keep up with the Captain. It turned slowly, pulling itself with long tentacle-like protrusions to correct it's position in the open air and shoot the little man.

Li didn't give it the chance. His phased plasma pistol scorched the beast's abdomen, cooking the creature's spine and paralyzingly it from the head down. It's jaws snapped open and shut, howling in agony as the limp body floated across the room.

The comm's officer's jump into the room wasn't as well judged as Li's, he shot across the room and clipped the opposing wall, catching himself awkwardly with his left arm. The man's wrist cracked, spinning him out through the bulkhead and into a trio of half-breed monsters.

As the unfortunate officer's death screams echoed down the corridor, the weapon's officer tossed a plasma grenade into the confined space with a shout of “Fire in the hole.” Unencumbered by gravity the four corpses worth of offal shot in all directions, filling the passageway with the venomous blood of the half-breeds.

“God dammit,” Klaus growled, “Why did you do that? Now we can't go through there, the ones with horns have bellies full of acid.”

“What did you want me to do? Shoot them?” The officer waved his pistol in irritation. “The last one we shot exploded so hard that it actually ruptured the hull.”

“We can close the bulkhead on a decompressed section of the ship, we can't just walk through acid.” Klaus fired into the mess of organs, dissolving a bubble of venomous blood creeping towards them. “We're going to have to go around.”


David Ng, the Engineering officer, coughed twice to interrupt his superior. He held up an alan wrench in one hand and dislodged table top in the other. “Might I suggest an alternative?”

Li nodded, “Do it.”

Officer Ng pushed the ceramic bock forward, displacing the human and alien remains from the corridor and into the room beyond. Weapons-specialist Gomez led the way into the forward chamber, taking the unenviable duty of being the first to enter a possibly occupied room.

The Argentine officer whistled twice, all clear. Ostensibly he was to whistle once were it unclear, but Li felt it was redundant considering the necessity of weapons-fire if enemies were present.

“There are fewer of them heading for the ammunition than I'd expected.” Ops officer Vincent's hands shook as he hovered into the room. “Only a dozen so far.”

“The G.R.O.P.Os are on the level they entered.” Li whispered in reply, cutting his hand across his throat in admonition of Vincent's loudness. “They're going to have to fight their way past them to get to it.”

Klaus shrugged, as he typed the over-ride into a sealed bulkhead's computer. The massive double doors to the cargo bay were nearly as wide as the room itself, “If the Inquisitor's information is to be trusted they are drawn to carnage. It's in their nature.”

“It's in my nature not to let annoying crew men ramble when we're supposed to be doing something foolish and noble.” Li snarled, his hackles raised at the idea of relying upon that man. “Are we going to be able to reach ammunition storage through the deck 15 connection?”

“It will if we can – oh Scheiße.” Klaus backed slowly away from the now open bulkhead, holding up his arms and raising his side arm to a less aggressive pose. Ten Dilgar shock-troops hovered in the cargo bay, hanging mid air in their gravity harnesses. The commandoes pointed their heavy laser rifles towards the human soldiers, dead to rights.

The damned flight deck, Li had forgotten that they could enter through the flight deck. Dilgar gravity harnesses gave them an unprecedented level of mobility in zero-gravity assaults in the later stages of the war, it was foolish of him not to anticipate this.

Li closed his eyes and spoke what he expected to be his final words, “It's been a pleasure men. I look forward to seeing you in warmer weather on the other side.”

They were good last words, he'd been preparing his last speech for years. It was a shame really that after practicing them for so long he would use them prematurely. A quintet of curious figures stepped out of thin air behind the Dilgar, massive cyclopean giants of gold and steel. They glared up at the Dilgar in silent contempt, raising their elongated rifles and firing brilliant green beams of energy through them.

The Dilgar howled in confused agony as the green beams tore them apart, flaying them inch by inch and pulling the atomized matter into the swirling vortices at their gun barrels. In a matter of moments the Dilgar assault team was rendered down into their component particles, a thin film of dust the only indication that living beings had ever been there.

“Your plan is unnecessary Captain,” Screeched a metallic voice from Li's left. A skeletal cyclopean hunchback hobbled towards him, walking normally in spite of the total absence of gravity. “Your death – the death of this ship – it is premature. You are still needed.”

“And who are you? You're as gaudy as a 斷背.” It was not Li's most charitable statement to date, “狗崽子/狗仔子, is there a sign on my ship saying 'boarders welcome'?”

“讓自己冷靜下來” Hissed the cyclopean hunchback. “We are not your enemy on this day. The bargain has been met. The first half has been given, now comes the second.”

“Oh for – I don't have time to listen to some 死鬼 ramble like a Vorlon, I have a ship to save.” Li spat on the ground.

“Man thing, your part is still necessary,” Hissed the giant. “For that, and that alone, I do not kill you where you stand for comparing me to those contemptible liars. Fear not for your ship, the Deathmarks are more than a match for this pathetic rabble.”

“Deathmarks?” Klaus queried.

“An unfortunate necessity of politics.” The cyclops hissed. “I have no urge to linger here. I will speak my peace then you primitives are welcome to continue as you will.”

“And what do you have to say?” Li asked.

“Tell me Captain, do you believe in Gods?”

“I have no use for gods or other foolish superstition. ”

“A wise opinion,” The cyclops smiled. “One we shared implicitly when we killed all of our own.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

G'Kar dragged the Centauri general back, hissing angrily at the approaching half-breed hounds. The forward command post had been precarious, by G'Quan he had warned the General Ezra that it was an over-extension of their forces.

But did he listen? No - of course not.

Pleasant though he might have been his Centauri pride was still well in tact enough to ignore the advice of a Narn, even a seasoned Narn tactician. By no reasonable standard could the General have planned on the mountainside exploding into a space ship and taking to the stars. But then, that was after all why one did not place a forward command post in a precarious position. One had to live long enough to actually command when things went wrong.

It was a weakness in Centauri tactics that G'Kar himself had exploited on more than one occasion in their war for independence. “I was a fool not to see this.”

“In-initial battle projections did not account for presence of Necron threat.” Jak fired a shotgun blast at a half-breed hound that strayed in range. “Unreasonable assumptions of responsibility help no-one. New probabilities indicate less than preferable probability of survival.”

“How not preferable?” G'Kar slapped the cheeks of the unconscious Centauri General, waving a Centauri medic over to tend to the man's wounds.

“Current probability of survival in clash between Necron soldiers and Eldar forces puts survival at 0.000065% presuming that we can find an area dead to both Necron deep scans and Eldar telepathy.”

“Jak, if you think we're going to die I much prefer a straight answer to a statistical misrepresentation,” G'Kar shot a hound's haunch, saving a Centauri soldier from it's jaws. The wounded hound was immediately set upon by its hungering pack, stripped down to the bone in their blood frenzy.

“We're going to die in a manner that is considered to be horrible by any reasonable standard not involving Eldar pirate torture methods.” Jak chambered a new round in his shotgun and fired, missing a hound as it pounced upon a retreating Narn shock-trooper.

“There, was that so hard?” G'Kar snarled in irritation. Whatever initiative they might have had to repel the Eldar warriors had been broken by the sudden arrival of half a mountainside. The Earth Alliance intervention forces were in utter shambles. Casualties had been relatively minimal but the sudden change in geography troubled the Allied forces far more than the Half-breed coalition.

“Sir!” Jak grabbed G'Kar by the collar, dragging him down. “Necron forces incoming!”

G'Kar batted the terrified man's grip away, poking a crimson eye out from cover to see what frightened the Imperials more than demons. Eight massive skeletons rose from the ash, seemingly tearing through the bones of the earth as they lifted themselves to their feet. Their golden bones shimmered with glowing green hieroglyphs, spitting bursts of energy into the air around them.

The eight warriors turned their double-barreled carbines on the hounds, cascading bolts of lighting jumping from victim to victim as though propelled by a minds of their own. The pack of hounds died in agony, cooked from the inside out.

The Skeletons outright ignored the Narn and Centauri soldiers as they tried to kill them. Heads smashed, torsos melted, fingers cracked but the skeletons just kept walking, shambling forwards as their bodies knit themselves back together. They shambled closer, and closer, carbines at the ready.

They continued their unstoppable march, walking up to point blank range before – before continuing as though they hadn't even noticed the presence of either Narn or Centauri soldiers. They walked past G'Kar without so much as a glance, striding into and through the sheer cliff face behind the Centauri fallback position.

“Do you want to tell me precisely what that was?” G'Kar queried.

“Unknown,” replied Jak. “But it is safe to say that I will have to adjust my statistical assessment of the situation.”

“Sir!” A young Centauri officer rushed towards him, “The E.A. evac is here. I'm under orders that you, the General and Mr. Jak are to fall back to General Franklin's position immediately.”

“Very well,” G'Kar nodded. “We shall have to inform him of this new development any – what in G'Quan's name is that?”

He pointed with a gauntleted finger at a shambling group moving towards the fallback encampment. It almost looked like a squad of Centauri, though their skin was stretched and distorted as though it were not properly sized for the Centauri's body. They moved unnaturally, a shambling half-march that was a far cry from parade standard movement.

“Sir... you need to move now. We can take care of – whatever these are.” The Centauri officer nodded to the Narn and Centauri holding the line. “Leave it to us.”

“Very well,” G'Kar hated leaving his men behind, but he was needed elsewhere. He helped the medic lift the General as they climbed the makeshift ramp at the back of the command post to reach the smooth ledge that served as a landing pad for transports. The boxy Earth Alliance vehicle was waiting for them, hovering only inches above the ground.

The pilot stuck his head out, shouting over the gunfire below, “Sir we have a ten minute window to take off before we get stuck here for another hour. We need to go.”

“Very well, very well,” G'Kar shoved the general into the back unceremoniously, much to the chagrin of the Centauri medic, before helping Jak into the transport. He was just about to enter himself when a voice came from behind him.

“Wait!” Screamed the terrified Centauri, “Don't leave me here. Don't leave me!”

G'Kar turned and watched in horror as a Centauri guardsman fell to the ground, tackled by a silver skeleton with eight inch blades for fingertips. The skeleton, covered in the recently skinned flesh of a Centauri soldier, leered at him through glowing optics. It chittered in what might have been laughter as G'Kar scrambled onto the transport shouting “Go, go damn you! Go now!”

A trio of skeletons set upon the unfortunate Centauri soldier, splitting him like a suckling spoo. They fought over his skin and bones, chittering angrily over the best parts of him as they painted themselves in his parts.

“Tell me this t-t-thing has T-T-Throne Cursed weapons!” Jak swore.

“And then some.” The pilot growled in fury, turning to his co-pilot. “Curtis, light these bastards up.”

Curtis, a dark skinned man with wide biceps and no neck grunted once before activating the nose mounted heavy plasma-repeater. The trio of skeletons disappeared in a wave of plasma fire.

Their bodies writhed in the effort to fix themselves, twisting and undulating before dissolving back into the sand as though they'd never been. The black man whooped in victory, “Who-rah!”

“Set the tires and light the fires,” The G.R.O.P.O pilot fist bumped his co-pilot. “Let's give the Centauri a little bit of covering fire before we get – oh dear God in heaven.”

The airborne transport swooped back over the cliff face, staring down into the valley G'Kar had been in only minutes before. They stared down into hell. The valley was full of psychotically cavorting silver skeletons delighting in gore. There was not a scrap of the retreat position not covered in gore.

“How is that even possible?” G'Kar whispered in awe. “We were gone only moments.”

“Early exploration of Necron architecture indicates that Necron forces are capable of existing in parallel or overlapping time frames,” Jak nodded. “Linear time is not a necessity.”

“We're fighting people who can time travel?” G'Kar hissed.

“Slowing time is confirmed on small scale conflicts, larger scale applications are pure speculation.” Jak sighed. “The walls of the valley likely impeded w-w-whatever t-t-temporal distortion prevented the rest from escaping.”

“I'm guessing these things aren't taking prisoners?” The pilot queried.

“Highly unlikely.” Jak replied.

“Sir with your permission I would very much like to drop a bunker-buster on these mother fraggers.” The co-pilot growled through clenched teeth.

“Permission granted,” G'Kar nodded, staring into the soulless eyes of a skeleton as it stared up at the transport as though contemplating how to jump up to it. He knew that creature, by memory, knew it in the old tongue as it was spoken by the great prophet G'Quan.

The soldiers of darkness were the shock troops of the ancient enemy that the Narn had once expelled from their home world with the help of the angels, the same enemy who killed the Narn mind walkers. G'Quan preserve them, the darkness was awake. The first death was back and with them the soldiers of darkness.

Death walked among them. Ancestors save them all!


=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

“Throne cursed whore's son of a slag ! Screamed Sergei as he came face to face with a three meter long centipede like robot. The machine observed him with mild interest, looking him up and down before shifting through the wall and away from him. He hadn't even had a second to raise his weapon before it vanished, and it took him a few seconds to get his heart rate down enough to proceed.

“Anyone else getting confused?” Falin queried, scratching his head as he prodded an Eldar corpse with his foot. “These things keep having us dead to rights then just fragging off.”

“Don't waste time and energy fighting things that are going your way soldier,” Gazan grunted. “I've got my hands full stitching you lot up without you seeking out new ways to die.”

Sergei couldn't help but agree as he watched a phalanx of jet-bike mounted skeletons clash with the Eldar flyers, countering the Eldar skill with mathematical precision. They were inelegant, moving with such unnatural accuracy that they did not seem to be part of the world around them. They would abruptly shift at right angles and zoom away, uncaring of the physical laws governing all other persons.

The battle between the two xenos armies raged around the smoldering hulk of the Eldar titan, dodging and darting through it's wreckage as they struggled to outmatch each other.

“But what are they? We've seen five different types of skeletons, none of whom so much as looked us in the face as they well – did this.” Falin waved at the charnel surrounding them. “If I'd known the Inquisitor had this chambered I'd have been a whole lot less worried about making it up to the front lines.”

“The Inquisitor's a son of a bitch but I don't think this is his doing.” Sergei squinted out at where the fortress mountain had once been. “Whatever was under that mountain had to have been there for a long time. Longer than even he can plan.”

Argos, grunted, “How far are we from their command post?”

“If the maps are still accurate – and lets be honest, they're probably not – we're only one tunnel from their main command post.” Falin ran his tongue over his lips, whetting them in thought. “If the skeletons have been as thorough in the forward bunkers as they've been in the adjoining tunnels then we should be able to break through their lines.”

“Should be?” Sergei snorted. “Well it's better than our odds have been so far. Why the Eye not.”

He shouldered his rifle and dropped into the trench beneath the bunker, curling his lip at the squelching bloody much and mire beneath his feet. If he survived uniform was getting burned before he took a week long shower while scrubbing himself raw. Throne alone knew to what he'd been exposed.

The surviving lion-hearts weaved their way along the path, staying low. They didn't have to work hard to avoid notice, the skeletons were mounting an offensive along the western front. Their shambling figures glimmered in the dusky shadows of the battlefield, a legion of death illuminated only by their weapon's fire. It was like staring into the face of armageddon.

Sergei did not bother to kill the sobbing Dilgar warrior crouched in the crook where three trenches met. The pitiful mewling kitten of a man sat there, grabbing at the cauterized stump that might once have been a leg, howling to raise the dead. The pathetic creature did not even notice him as he slunk by, so engrossed was it in it's own pain.

“Sir,” Gazan examined the creature's wound more closely. “A moment.”

Sergei turned and watched as the Medic pulled out a pain suppressant and injected it at the base of the Dilgar's neck. The creature's eye's rolled up into the back of it's head as it succumbed to a dreamless state of narcotic bliss, whiskers twitching contentedly.

“And why in Thrones' name are you using good narca on a xenos enemy?” Falin chided in irritation. “We could easily have just shot it.”

“That would have given away our position,” Gazan replied. “And there is nothing to be gained by letting the creature suffer. If we win this battle we will need captives, we will need knowledge. If it survives, a crippled Dilgar will be easier to manage.”

“Are you planning on carrying it?” Argos queried, holding up his flamer to demonstrate that he had no room.

“I'm – down -” Sergei dropped into the disgusting mire, spreading the muck over his body to conceal himself, doing his best to look dead. His thundering heart throbbed in his ears as the Eldar soldiers leapt the trench, howling to raise the dead. Their long plumes of razor-laced hair hung loosely from conical wraith-bone helms, jingling with the noise of jewelery carved of what could only be freshly harvested human jaw-bones.

Long capes of electrified razor wire dangled behind them, sparking and spitting in their wake. Anyone unfortunate to touch them would doubtless have fallen unconscious, leaving them open for a glowing power scimitar to find a neck. They weren't banshees, Sergei knew enough of the Aspect warriors that he could be sure of that, the aspect warriors were a more uniform group. But neither were they the Dark Eldar Wytches so ubiquitous in the pirate armada of the Dark City, who would shun all forms of armor in contempt. No, they were something he'd never seen before.

The screeches howled their way into the distance, though Sergei dared not breath till echoing clang of power scimitar on metallic skeleton rumbled in the distance. He lifted himself to his feet and stared into the pacified eyes of the Dilgar. The drug addled alien was sitting upright, using his remaining hand to make a castle out of the blood filled muck.

Sergei wiped the filth from his face as he stared at the humming creature as it swayed from side to side. “Gazan, Pit of the Eye, how much of that did you give him?”

“Twenty, no forty cc of morpha.” Gazan growled, using some of his drinking water to sanitize his hands. “It should be enough to last him till we get back.”

“Can it walk?” Sergei queried.

Argos swore, “We are carrying the damn xenos?”

“No Argos,” Sergei smiled, pointing to the Dilgar's rank pins. “We're bringing a key.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Biting down on his belt to keep himself from chewing through his own tongue the Captain muscled through the pain as he prow of the Endless Bounty smashed through the bioship's side. Firing vortex torpedoes at close range into the Faustian Bioship was not Sáclair's favorite memory. In fact he would go so far as to say that he far preferred Daul's caring ministrations with a knife and electroshock maul in the heyday of his imprisonment.

Still the bio-ship would die, which was easily worth the pain. The backlash would, of course, destroy the primary firing mechanism of the vortex torpedo launchers, but Sáclair was out of vortex torpedoes anyway. For that matter he was out of magma bombs, cyclonic torpedoes, and any other ordinance of worth.

Even the damned shields had failed. Kerrigan's improvements ultimately required a defter hand than Tuul could provide, especially whilst co-ordinating a counter assault at the same time. Damn that woman. Was trying to sabotage the ship once not enough for her spite?

Sáclair ignored the sense of panic from his ancestors, the overwhelming finality each of them felt for what was seemingly destined to come as the primary power distributor guiding the main engines cracked under the pressure of cleaving the bio-ship in twain.

The engines sparked, they sputtered, and they died. The formerly elegant grace of the Endless Bounty lay crippled and stilted in the burning husk of the black ship, groaning like a beached whale. Never, not once in Sáclair's entire life, had he felt so powerless.

As a boy it had been his secret dream to pilot an Eldar starship, perhaps with his own pet gryx. Men grow old, dreams die, but it is rarer still for a man to stare into his own dream as he dies.

He watched in terror as the Eldar Night Stalker whispered it's way through the battle on pinioned wings of starlight, predatory and agile in it's deliberate menace. It was beautiful really, an elegant war machine as old as the stars themselves.

It was, all things considered, an elegant way to die fitting of someone of his status. Throne if he was going to go out, he'd be damned if he did it cowering like some dull peasant.

“We're being hailed by the Eldar ship sir,” Sácomer chimed across the vox link, his copious jowls jiggling across his hololithic projection. “They say they are prepared to discuss the terms of surrender.”

“Open a channel to the Eldar ship.” Nathaniel Sáclair chuckled, “No, scratch that. Open a channel to all ships in the system.”

“Message sir?” Queried Sácomer.

Sáclair winced as he felt another section of hull decompress, an intentional one this time. He allowed himself a tiny smirk at he sensation of Eldar boarders being sucked out into the void of space. “Open the Vid-link. I want to be able to say this in real-time. Be sure to broadcast both sides of it on an open channel.”

Reclining into his throne, Sáclair straightened his Jacked and shirt. One must look presentable in the face of the enemy, it would do no good to look like some wastrel vagabond for one's final words. It was undignified.

The great hololith shimmered and reshaped itself into a narrow face, more peculiar for it's striking similarity to humanity than it's differences. It was a perfect face, too perfect. Human faces were not evenly matched, not properly balanced. Human faces had bumps, ridges, imperfections, tiny details to let you know they were not simply made on an assembly line like some sort of machine.

The Eldar had no such visible imperfections, and were less attractive for it. Their pinched and perfectly balanced faces were striking but could never be described as attractive, more like stylized dolls than actual people. The unnatural beauty of the Eldar always seemed to be perfectly accentuated by an omnipresent sneer of contempt.

The Eldar face spoke, it's cat like eyes narrowing as translucent lips danced across tapering ivory fangs. It's voice forced it's way out of the astropathic translator, the servitor's syllables colored with pain as runnels of blood ran from it's eye sockets.

He caressed the head of the astropathic servitor bound to his throne, caressing the feminine ear and scalp. She cooed and pressed back into the scratch, enjoying what little comfort she had left. It was unlikely the girl would survive her encounter with an Eldar mind, but then she was hardly alive to begin with.

She spoke in pained tones, struggling to keep up with the myriad of complex motions made by the Eldar vocal cords. “You will discuss the terms of surrender?”

“I lament to inform you that the Endless Bounty is not properly equipped to accept your surrender,” Sáclair replied, sipping from his flagon. He greatly enjoyed the look of confusion in the Eldar's face as the astropath fed his message back in the Eldar language.

“What?” The Eldar replied nonplussed.

“You have a sizable army on the planet, even if I don't include the Dilgar and traitor forces. I have nowhere near sufficient facilities to house all of you in conditions that meet the basic standards that a prisoner of war encampment must meet.” Sáclair ticked down his fingers one by one with each point. “And I'm afraid to tell you that my government's policy has been to never accept the surrender of xenos.”

He smiled into the furious face of the Eldar, “It is with great shame that I inform you on behalf of the Empire that we are simply unable to accept the surrender of the Eldar aggressors at this time.”

“Impudent princeling, ” The Eldar snarled, bolts of warp-fire spitting from his eyes and mouth. “You are a fool. A chance was given for a challenge met with honor. The path is chosen and done. If it is to be your doom, then so be it.”

“I'll see you in hell knife ear,” Sáclair replied. “I'll see you in – ” he blinked as his sensors reported something impossible “ -what the hell?”

The mountain fortress of Matok was exiting the planet's atmosphere at a remarkable speed. He sniffed his wine tentatively, searching for the odor of takka root or gejan berries. Finding neither he decided that, in fact, he was not hallucinating as the mountain continued to fly out from the planet's atmosphere and into the starry void.

It was a starship, larger than even the largest Imperial warship Sáclair had ever seen, larger than even a Ramilies Class Starfort. A ship with power readings worthy of the mightiest of hive cities, the Sh'lassen rebels had been hiding a secret worthy of note after all.

As his sensors reconciled the impossible with reality Sáclair looked up at the Eldar and smiled, “It would seem we both are destined for the Eye today.”

The Eldar's glare seemed to hover in the air long after the hololith ceased to broadcast the Eldar's face.

“Do we know if that thing is friendly or an enemy?” Sácomer quibbled, his quivering jowls shaking in fear.

“It isn't as though it makes a damn bit of difference.” Interjected Navigator Illrich, poking a pair of spectacles up his upturned snub of a nose. “We can't move, we have no large ordinance, and no throne cursed shields. We might as well be a target.”

“Eldar are moving to engage the pyramid,” Interjected a young officer, his voice shaky from exhaustion. “They're covering the retreat of the Faustian black-ships into warp.”

“The Dilgar?” Queried Sácomer.

“Still engaging the Non-aligned worlds. They seem to be frightened enough of us to stay out of range of our guns.” The officer replied. “Emperor be praised.”

“The Emperor protects,” Sáclair replied. If he actually survived this battle he was going to mass twice a day.

Sáclair extended his sensors and watched as the angry school of Eldar ships swarmed the pyramid like furious hornets, stinging and stabbing at it's sides with pulse lasers and arcane warp-energies. Their guns were as water to a stone, colliding with it before rolling off to the side. The unknown ship hung in place, passively accepting the incoming fire as it's sides throbbed with green light.

The light pulsed and pulsed with increasing frequency, speeding up little, by little, by little until the sides of the pyramid were erupting with a staccato frenzy of pulsing green light. The green flecks spun in an endless cascade of shifting viridian, twisting and writhing till they finally erupted into beams of iridescent lightning. The green bolts jumped from eldar dart ship to eldar dart ship, crushing them into shattered fragments of xenotech.

The Eldar capital ship's weapons fared no better, scorching the monolithic pyramid's hull but doing little else. A pulsing blue tractor beam wave snatched the Eldar capital-ship, entrapping it in filaments of starlight and shadow. The larger ship struggled, pinioned wings of energy pushing at the implacable force of the pyramid but for naught.

The pyramid ship fired it's main weapon at the Eldar capital-ship, tearing out one of it's wings like a small child with a moth. The Eldar ship struggled harder, firing again with all it's weapons. The pyramid's hull pulsed with flecks of green as it charged it's lightning once again.

And then a very strange thing happened. A pair of bio-ships ships simply appeared from thin air. The jagged and crab like craft opened fire upon the pyramid, cutting across the lower section of it with purple beams of immense power. The Pyramid ships' blue tractor beam dissipated, freeing the Eldar ship to speed off into the stars on it's remaining wings, disappearing into the web-way.

The pyramid unleashed it's lighting upon the crabs, but only shot it's beams into empty space. The crabs had disappeared as quickly as they came. Apparently furious at having lost it's prey the pyramid ship fired it's lightning at the Dilgar fleet, destroying or crippling what few Enemy ships remained.

Sáclair watched in confusion as the Pyramid folded in upon it's self, seeming to implode into a speck of nothing, leaving the battle in a puff of steam and plasma. The battle was over?

“We won?” Illrich asked in confusion, staring into his view-screen. “I'm not registering any remaining enemy troops in sensor range.”

“Let's settle for 'we survived” Sáclair replied, wincing as reports of the Eldar boarding teams increased in severity. The knife-ears did not take loosing well. “Sent a request for soldiers out to whichever of our Allies are still alive and see how many of our boys survived on the ground. I want these damn boarders off my ship.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=--=-=-=-=-

By the time they reached the Dilgar command bunker, the Lionheart's captive had become lucid enough to realize that he was a prisoner of war. He didn't appear to be irritated by this development, in truth he was veritably relaxed in his resignation. Though if the tattered state of his uniform and the sallow sunken hang of his flesh were any indication, the siege had been as hard upon the Dilgar attackers as it had been on the Sh'lassen.

The Dilgar soldier gnawed at an Imperial ration, purring as it's sharp fangs tore off the cured meat. It struggled with the wrapper, using it's remaining hand to close the package and pocket it as Gazan helped it to reach the re-enforced hatch to the command bunker, steadying it upon his shoulder.

Sergei pointed to the door, speaking in what little Interlac he knew. “Open it.”

The Dilgar shook his head, replying in his own bastardization of the universal language of the local xenos. “Human no want in there. Bad man in there.”

“Yes human want.” Sergei replied, raising his side arm and pointing it at the Dilgar's knee. “Human get or cat looses leg.”

The Dilgar yowled in his native tongue, screeching what could only have been the Dilgar equivalent of “if you insist” as he shrugged his remaining shoulder and kneeled down above the hatch. The Dilgar pressed down in the center of the door, wincing as a needle shot up from the sheer plate. The locking computer warbled fore a few moments before flashing green, hissing an affirmation in the Dilgar tongue and yawning outward, revealing the sloping staircase downwards.

“Gazan,” Sergei nodded twice, tapping the side of his neck with three fingers. The confused Dilgar fell into blissful narcotic sleep for a second time that day as Gazan injected it with a powerful dose of morpha. Cripple or not, bringing the Dilgar with them would have been suicide. A single cry of warning and it all would have gone to hell.

“Argos,” Sergei pointed to the stairwell, “Lead the way.”

The Lionheart nodded, igniting the pilot light of his flamethrower and walking gingerly along the uneven steps. It was slow going down the stairwell, whoever made the bunker had been clever. There were no overt booby traps, it would have been too dangerous for any messenger trying to get word to the Dilgar Warmaster, but the Engineers used simple spatial awareness as a weapon.

The Dilgar did not appear to suffer from the same physical needs that Humans did, meaning that stairs had no need of proportion or uniformity. Sergei had to grip the wall to keep his balance along the rough cut earth as it sloped up and cut away at irregular moments, reaching out with his feet to check each step. A stair might be only inches away, and it might well be a foot or deeper.

They trudged through the dull light of the corridor in alarming silence, the distant noises of battle and death muffled by tonnes of hard earth and obsidian. Each step Sergei took thundered in his ears with it's whispering echo, his padded boots insufficient to silence his own foot falls. The controlled breathing of the Lionhearts sounded as loud to him as his own heartbeat, a silent cacophony of covert noise he was sure would bring the guards down upon him at any moment.

The guards - where were the guards? The absence of guards at the door he understood, the two poor fools had been grabbed by the elongated pincers of some flying insect-like mechanical monstrosity as it flew by, but certainly by now he should have run into a sentry or messenger. He could even see signs that there had, at some point, been guards on duty. Small alcoves dotted the stairwell, tiny spaces just large enough for two men to sit abreast or one man to fire comfortably from cover.

They'd clearly been used recently, the discarded remains of tobacco and still steaming contents of chamber pots hinted at the recent presence of their occupants. Half eaten meals and still playing vid devices lay discarded along the stairwell, tossed upwards by someone heading downwards in a hurry.

Something had gone terribly wrong for the Faust's forces.

The signs of battle became more evident as they headed deeper. Thick gouges of rock wall sized for the claws of half-breed warriors met with the charred scarring of plasma fire, the discarded corpses of the fallen soldiers eviscerated with surgical precision.

“Throne above,” Whispered Falin in fear, “Who were they keeping out?”

“Keeping in,” Gazan corrected, pulling a glow stick from his pocket and cracking it to activate the dull yellow chemical glow.

“Come again?” Argos interjected.

“The bodies are all facing the same way we are, or at least they were,” Gazan pointed to an ogryn sized boot print in the muck. “Whatever they were fighting came from inside, and fought it's way out of the bunker.”

“A half breed?” Sergei queried.

“I hope not,” Gazan said in a worried voice. “If Faust has created a half breed that can do this, it bodes ill for the future.”

“Gazan, everything we see bodes ill for the future. Life bodes ill for the future.” Sergei sighed. “We keep going, the Warmaster's last known location was here.” He looked down at the corpses, “Argos, burn the bodies behind us as we go, I don't want half breeds showing up in a blood frenzy.”

“I'll do what I can sir,” Argos replied, “The Emperor protects.”

“The Emperor protects,” Replied Sergei as he took over the lead.

The carnage increased as the Lionhearts walked closer to the command bunker. Dilgar warriors lay slaughtered over fixed gun emplacements, their eyes still clouded from confusion. Hulking half-breed corpses had been used to overload the intake vents to an emergency fallout void-shield, shorting out the barrier.

“Pit of the Eye ,” Falin pointed to the hand prints on a discarded bulkhead door, “Someone ripped this out with their bare hands. Their bare hands. That has to be as thick as my arm.”

“Whoever they were they're gone now,” Sergei replied, cricking the tension out of his neck as he leaned on the door frame of the Dilgar command bunker.

“What makes you so sure of that?” Queried Gazan.

“Because he got what he wanted.” Sergei pointed to the support beam above the holographic conference table, indicating the pitiful figure hanging from the rafters. The Dilgar woman had been crucified, her arms and chest nailed to the rafter with long blades before someone had taken to time to expose her chest and carve a word into it, “Failure.” Her tongue lolled out in apparent agony, accentuating the thick runnels of blood dripping down her corpse and into the holographic dispay the the battlefield below her.

“The Dilgar Warmaster,” Falin let out a low whistle. “The Inquisitor wasn't kidding about Faust taking a grim view of losing a battle. I'd hate to be a general in his army”

Sergei climbed up on to the table, examining the blades intently. They were swords by any reasonable measure, though the thick grip of them would seem to indicate that whomever had used them had fists to put an Ogryn to shame. “That's odd – It can't be...”

“Can't be what sir?” Argos replied, looking up from a discarded xenos cogitator.

“You're in for a treat soldier, going to get to see and hold something most men only hear of in stories.” Sergei pulled a the swords from the palm of the deceased Warmaster's left hand, examining the mark of it's hilt, “An Adeptus Astrates combat blade.”

“What!” Falin squawked, his eyes bulging as he examined the winged blade icon on it's hilt “You mean - ”

“He means,” Gazan interjected in a voice of awed reverence as he examined the Dilgar Warmaster's wounds, “That there was a Space Marine in this room less than thirty minutes ago.”

"Oh -- Hellfire," Sergei stared at the blade in his hand like a venomous snake, his eyes bulging in horror, "What I mean is that there was a Space Marine in the command bunker of Faust's forces that didn't have to fight to get in."

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