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[AP] PRODIGAL SON, A Rogue's Tale - Book II
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Scion Drakhar



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Joined: 27 Oct 2010
Posts: 843 on topic
Location: Milky Way galaxy. Sol system. Earth. Most of the time anyway.
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PostPosted: Fri, 16. Jun 17, 21:44    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

...continued.

Mary Anne O'Riordan lounged in the captain's chair on the bridge of the Bloody Mary. She was trying to appear calm, cool and collected but inwardly she was feeling impatient. She didn't want to be here. She had a treasure to find and, while they did come in handy, she rarely needed nuclear missiles. She owned a bomber but it didn't often see use. She did not, however, own a missile frigate, which made the hammer heavy torpedoes S'jar t'Chk was promising all but useless to her. She also happened to despise both S'jar t'Chk and Wen Digo. Just being in the same sector with either of them made her skin crawl. In addition Abmanckusset was ruthless, devilishly intelligent, and volatile. Being in close proximity to all three of those warlords felt a great deal like standing next to a bomb that could go off at any moment.

So why was she here? She didn't want to be in this sector. She had a mystery to solve on the other side of the galaxy. S'jar t'Chk's plans interested her about as much as what a mildew salesman might have to say. She didn't care about his promises. She didn't even believe that he could or would keep them. Even if the fool could somehow defeat his protege in a battle of either wit or fire then Thane would stop him from laying claim to the complex. And if by some strange twist of fate Thane should fail then Abmanckusset would do it... albeit through very different means. Of course, thinking about it, she suspected that if there ever was a time for Thane to get his hands dirty then this was it. Earlier in the day a little bird had told her a story. In the story S'jar t'Chk used Drakhar to attack Thane's family, supposedly only just last night, and that Thane had been unusually quiet since. Given Thane's nature quiet was not normally a word folk associated with him. The man was loud, forceful, and tended to take a direct hand in the affairs and running of his shipyard. Yet neither hide nor hair had been seen of him all day long. Which felt strange. 'Like the caa'm before one 'ell of a storm,' she thought.

"S'jar t'Chk for you, Captain," Garret, her second in command, informed her.

She sighed heavily. She didn't want to talk to him. It took several moments of deep breathing before she rolled her eyes and relented. "Go on, then. Put him through."

The holoscreen flickered to life and S'jar t'Chk's manic visage appeared before her. He was sweaty, topless, painted black about the eyes, and wearing a plethora of bloody bandages on his arms, shoulders and, judging from the tape around his chest and belly, his back as well. "Mary-Anne!" he greeted her with his fool grin. Normally he'd throw his arms wide as if they were old lovers that still thought of each other warmly. Today he sat still so that he wouldn't aggravate his injuries. The sight of it amused her.

"S'jar t'Chk," she greeted him with a sneer. "I see you and Drake Jerigan have been getting along." She smiled sadistically and S'jar t'Chk's grin faded away.

"What makes you think so?" t'Chk's smile looked nearly feral. His teeth were clenched teeth together so that his words sounded like a growl.

Mary Anne laughed in his face. T'Chk instantly closed his eyes. She imagined that she could almost hear the curses he was hurling at himself just then. 'Idiot,' she thought at him. 'Did you really think that that man was stupid enough to climb onto your ship without a plan?' "Tell me," she asked cheerfully, "was it him tore up your back?

S'jar t'Chk opened his eyes and glared at her. "Never mind, Mary Anne," he said in the most diplomatic tones he was capable of. "Are you ready to begin the attack?!"

"Attack!?" she laughed.

"Yes!" he snarled, then immediately took a breath to regain control of himself. "Attack," he continued in softer tones. "That is why you are here..."

"Nay, kinsman," she interupted him. He blinked and glared at her. "I'm here," she told him, "because you made me certain promises, promises that I'm no longer certain you can keep."

"I can keep them," he snarled, "if you attack." His voice became patronizing. "We need to destroy the ships defending that station before we can land ships on it. Once we land, and my marines secure..."

"Your marines?" she cut him off. "Wasn't the plan for all of us to invade together... to keep everyone honest?"

"Yes! Yes!" he waved that away impatiently. "Before that, though, my darling Mary Anne, we need to get rid of those ships. See?" He cocked his head to the side and split his face with a horrific grin. "So?" he asked, with his face still frozen in that impossible expression. "Lets keep it simple, shall we? Are you in? Or are you out?"

That was the question, wasn't it? She had no intention of firing on any of Drakhar's ships, let alone invading his station or attempting to steal from him. In fact she didn't even like being seen in the same formation as the Brimstone... or the Monster. S'jar t'Chk and Wen Digo were just bad company to keep and even worse to be associated with. And, of course, there was the matter of the nukes Drakhar was supposed to have. 'Hundreds!' t'Chk had promised. Only, to her way of thinking, those nukes were now pointed at her. Which meant that attacking that station would very likely result in massive damages. At best she would lose her corvettes and most of her fighters just approaching that complex. And at worst? She'd done the math. It would take roughly thirty of those nukes to obliterate her shuri. Which meant hundreds were more than enough to destroy most of this motley fleet that she was now a part of, if not annihilate it entirely. Which made this endeavor seem risky at best and suicidal at worst. At the same time she'd given her word, and not to S'jar bloody t'Chk.

"Aye," she said, entirely unable to keep her exasperation out of her tone. "I'm in." 'Fer now, anyway.'

"Good!" t'Chk said, still wearing his nightmare clown's grin. "Then we're moving out!"

A moment later the holoscreen winked out and she rolled her eyes. "Match our speed and heading with the Brimstone, Adley," she told her helmswoman.

"Match speed and heading aye, Cap'n," Adley called back.

"Should I launch the planes, Captain?" Garret asked her.

"Nay," she told him, "but keep the jump drive spooled up. Our commitment to this cause ends the very instant that boy starts throwing nuclear bombs at us."

********

H'nt grunted in disgust, inwardly grateful that he'd refused Ea't's wager. He'd implied that he didn't believe S'jar t'Chk had the mettle to actually attack. Ea't then asked him how much he was willing to bet. H'nt told him to do something anatomically impossible. All of which took place in complete silence as they stood on the CIC and pretended to ignore each other while Drake layed out his plans.

"Here they come," Chinomu said, sounding resigned. He snorted by way of reply.

Lu shook his head on the view screen above them. "Think they have any idea how badly they've miscalculated?"

"Not yet," Eri said.

H'nt nodded approvingly. "They will learn."

********

The hatch to the galley was closed but even from twenty meters through the gloom Braun could see what kind of scene awaited him. There was a meter long streak of blood across the deck just in front of that hatch. It was black and shining in the flickering light of the overheads, and it formed a line directly to the galley hatch from the center of the corridor. The closer he got the more it became apparent that the streak was the result of a pair of bloody hands clawing at the deck while something dragged their owner into the galley. Braun stared at that blood trail for a moment. He could see the desperate quality of the smears on the metal and the fingerprints on the last lip below the hatch. He found it easy to imagine the screams that accompanied their making. For a moment he expected to open the hatch and find a group of muscle or gunboys sitting around a meal made of Drakey-Boy and his marines. Then he thought of that great Split monstrosity pointing a repeater at his face and sighed as he accepted that it was unlikely. Drakey-Boy may only have brought a handful of men with him but Braun had seen them up close and thought that handful looked mighty solid. So he gnashed his teeth once, then twice, then three times and took strength from the terror he inspired in the drug addled mutts that were following him. Then he palmed the hatch controls.

When the hatch opened the first thing he saw was a human male lying face down at the end of the blood trail. It was obvious the poor bastard had been dragged back into the compartment and then killed by a blow to the back of the head. 'Aye, he thought, staring at the shape of the wound, 'boot-heel that doon'et.' Then he lifted his eyes to the rest of the compartment. A pace beyond the man with the smashed head he saw the corpse of a Split with a gaping wound across its throat. It was leanin' against the bench of one of the crew tables, chest and belly covered in dark ocher blood from the neck down. A pace away from the Split's feet he saw a filthy blanket. After a moment Braun understood. 'Wore that ta' s'prise 'em,' he thought. 'Looket jus like yin of the dregs out in the hoo-el, A wager.'

To his right the corpse of a Teladi lay on the deck like a piece of smashed fruit. Braun glanced at the dent in the wall above her, and the green ichor sprayed outward from it and guessed that she'd been smashed into the wall by something strong. Braun thought it looked like she'd been swung by her tail. Behind the Split there was another human. This one was female and looked as if she'd been hit over the head by something heavy. The blow crushed her into the table behind her. In that instant his mind began putting the scene together. He could almost see it. The Split died first, too surprised by what he found under that blanket to save himself from the blade that took his life. Braun then glanced at the table to his left and saw the scratches in the aluminum surface. They looked like a match for the Teladi's claws. On either side of those scratches, bowls and plastic trays had been tipped over and knocked aside.

'Aye,' he thought, nodding. 'Aet's the way 'twas.'

As the Split fell back, clutching his throat to keep the life inside him, the Teladi panicked and tried to flee. But the bastard was too fast and caught the lizard by the tail. Then... he glanced at the woman... he swung the lizard overhead and down to bludgeon the woman. The blow was powerful enough to break the woman's neck, drive her into the table behind her and likely snap her spine. Then the killer whirled around, swinging the Teladi by the tail, and smashed the lizard lengthwise into the wall.

Then Braun glanced at the man with the boot heel imprinted in the back of his head. He could see the blood around him, like a painting in green, ocher, and red. He could see the direction of the spatter, the way those vital fluids flew from the tip of a knife or exploded from the ruptured Teladi... or fell from a gut wound to spatter on the deck. He glanced at the corpse at his feet and noted the pool spreading from it's belly. Then he nodded. The fool at his feet had tried to tackle the killer and been quickly knifed in the guts for his trouble. He then tried to crawl away through the open hatch. But why the boot heel? And why use the Teladi as a club? Why not just use the blade on all of them?

He heard the muscle and knuckleboys and girls whispering behind him and glanced over his shoulder. One of them was staring at the Split, Teladi and human at his feet. The other was looking to his left, into the kitchen. Braun turned and followed the fool's gaze. There was another human male lying at the base of a refrigerator. The door of that refrigerator was coated and streaked with blood from the man who slid down it.

"Stay hee-ah!" he barked at the muscleboys behind him. "'Aen don' tooch aenything!" He then crossed the compartment and stepped behind the counter. As he got closer he saw the pistol laying on the deck a few paces from where the man had fallen. He also saw that there was a puncture in the steel door of the refrigerator. The puncture was about five centimeters long and a milimeter wide. He glanced at the side of the man's neck and squinted. It was hard to tell because of the elasticity of the flesh but he guessed that the wound was roughly the same size. He reached out and used the man's hair to pull his head away from the door. The opposite side of his neck had the same wound. 'A blaed,' he thought. 'A thruen blaed. He glanced at the refrigerator door, the puncture and the blood spatter. 'Pinned this bastard right to the door from...' he glanced back at the tables in the galley, '...ten meters away!' He looked back to the blood on the door, the man at his feet, and the gauss pistol on the deck several paces away. 'While this turd was roonin'! He took a breath and gnashed his teeth once just to clear his thoughts. 'That was one bloody gud throw!'

He got back to his feet and looked around. To his right, behind the counter, he saw two more humans. One had his head on backwards. The other was horribly disfigured by both burns and bludgeoning. He glanced at the counter and saw that it was powdered with flour, except there was a streak through that flour that looked like a perfect match for an ass cheek sliding through it. He looked up at the counter on the back wall. There were several plastic containers lying on their sides, a broken cutting board and a bloody imprint that looked like it would match a man's face.

'Bastard comes in,' he thought, 'kills the Split. Knaifes the eejit in the guts.' He looked down at the corpse at his feet. 'Daels with this yin by throon a knaif.' He looked back to the scene in the galley. 'Probably while holdin' that Teladi by the tail,' he snorted. 'Finishes the thrae by the taybles with just his hauns...' He glanced at the fellow with the size eleven boot heel in the back of his head. '... and foot.' His eyes moved to the two men by the stove, 'then ee comes o'er the bar to get in close with these yins.'

He opened his mouth wide and inhaled air across his teeth. At his feet, underneath the front counter he saw what they called a 'sauce pan'. It was deformed and lying on its side. It's handle was bent and it's copper bottom was dented and spattered with human blood. Shifting his gaze he saw that the burned man against the wall was covered in some kind of stew. The one at his feet was lying on its belly while looking up at the clock on the back wall. 'Kicket this yin as he came o'er,' he nodded to himself and looked at the burned man, who lay several meters away at the base of the far bulkhead. 'Thayn kicket that yin into the wull to bay sum taim. He looked down. 'Tween 'em now, he breaks this'in's neck, n'then grabs the pan as the other collects himsaylf.' He looked at the burned man, 'gives that'in the stew a wee bit aerly,' he snorted, 'n'then beat 'im to daeth wit' the pan.' Braun looked up. 'Six Yaki in just a few sezura, he nodded with admiration. 'Ye're one rite daedly cacksucker, ye'are.'

He turned around to survey the scene again. Then he noticed the kettles on the stove. They were huge things, large enough to boil a a Teladi in, and he could hear one of them bubbling beneath a closed lid. The other lay on its side on the counter. Braun thought it looked as if it had been filled with some kind of thin dough or thick icing that had since been scraped out, leaving only a thin residue behind. He stepped up to it and then wiped a gloved finger against the side, picking up some of whatever was in it. He rubbed it between his fingers. It was both gelatinous and sticky. Then he lifted it to his nose and sniffed before instantly pulling it away from his face again. He glared at the material on his finger and thumb. It smelled like petrol, sugar, flour, and...

He froze. There was a packing peanut at the base of the stove.

...polystyrene. He turned and glanced at the counter. A dark purple vegetable had been chopped up beside the stove. 'Baruga squash,' his mind provided; a Split vegetable that produced a flammable oil. A moment later he turned his head to glare at the kettle bubbling thickly beside him. He then slowly backed away. When he was several paces away he turned and glared at the muscleboys in the hatchway to make sure that none of them had come in.

'A right daedly bastard...' he thought, again with admiration.

Past the refrigerators there was an opening that led to food storage. As he reached the end of the counter he glanced through that opening to see if there was anything of interest within. A moment laer he blinked in surprise, then managed to do not merely a double take, but a triple, and even a quadruple take. Finally he stepped into the pantry to make sure he was actually seeing what he thought he was seeing. Several paces from the door there was a live Teladi. At least he thought she was alive, although he suspected that just now she probably wished she was not. She was bruised, beaten, bloody and frozen in the rictus of terror that plagued the race. She seemed to have been afflicted while screaming. She'd been stuffed face first into a grain barrel so completely that her head and shoulders had popped through the metal on the other end. The sharp edges of the warped and broken barrel base cut through her clothes and into her shoulders. The barrel lay on it's side in a rack roughly a meter off the deck, and Braun could see the green ichor from her wounds dripping down barrell and rack to the deck. On the other side of the barrel her tail was stiff and curled up over her head. Her legs were curled up so that her knees were on either side of the barrel. It was obvious that she'd been trying to claw and shove her way back out of the barrel when the insult occurred. Braun stepped around behind her and whistled. "Yee-rite, bloody bastard!" he said in both shock and admiration. Behind the Teladi was the corpse of another Split. This one was limp and hanging from his neck against the rack the barrel was in. The head was completely invisible. It had been completely inserted into the Teladi's rectum.

Braun shook his head in disbelief. 'It was'nae Drakey Boy 'n his crew did this,' he thought. ''Twas jus' one rite dangerous cacksucker,' he thought. 'Gotta be Split,' he decided, unless this was the work of a Set'jak Paranid that had lost its mind. Which was possible, he supposed and then shook his head. The ass cheek on the countertop fit a human or Split but not a 'nid. 'Drakey-Bae has two Split with him,' he thought, 'and Ah'd bet my left nut thaet aeyther a'them'd be a match for this sorry lot a...'

The thought literally stopped in his mind. He'd just reached the passageway back into the kitchen and realized that the muscleboys he'd left at the hatch were now in the kitchen. He leaned around the refrigerator and saw one of them lifting the lid off the kettle on the stove, obviously wondering if there was something good to eat contained within. Braun caught a glimpse of the plasma grenade stuck to the underside of the kettle's lid just before hearing the rapidly accellerating beep of the priming alarm.

"SHITE!" he screamed and whirled away, palming the hatch control as he threw himself back, behind and away from the bulkhead between him and what was in that kettle. An instant later hell exploded within the bowels of the Brimstone.

********

Seldon exhaled with slow, weary disgust. They'd just reached the deck's primary security station, a hardened checkpoint that, in the hands of an even halfway competent security force would have allowed the defenders to lock down the corridor and prevent access to the bridge and computer core. If she'd been in charge of the ship's security when an enemy was free and moving about this station would have been locked down behind ray shields. The sentry lasers would have been armed and hunting targets. And the security detail would have been manning the cameras as well as the twin, floor-mounted, high-volume plasma repeaters. Instead, however, the station had only been manned by four human males and one human female that, had she been a bartender, she would have carded before serving. Only one of the five looked old enough to shave more than once a month. Unfortunately these children had been armed and drugged into a near psychotic frenzy. Which meant that when she'd demanded their surrender the five of them simply began screaming and opened fire on her squad. It was over in less than three sezura, proving that five drug addled children were no match for highly trained and battle hardened space marines.

She was still feeling like shit about it when the floor shook beneath their feet and a distant peel of thunder slammed into the atmo of the ship's corridors. All of the marines reflexively dropped into cover, with Frank dragging the kid behind one of the chest high barricades for good measure. For a moment no one said anything and the only sound was caused by the seven of them breathing. She'd been half expecting to see a wall of fire come racing up the corridor behind them and was still yearning for the hermetically sealed combat armor they'd been ordered to leave behind when it occurred to her that if it was going to happen it would have already. "What the frak was that?!" She asked no one in particular.

"Ea't," Drake replied. His tone suggested that it should have been obvious. At her annoyed look he held up his hands. She huffed, still angry at him for drawing Frank out into fire earlier, but then admitted that he was probably right. 'Subtle' was not a word she'd ever use in conjunction with that particular Split, and it was all too easy to imagine the crazy son of a bitch blowing up half the ship to clear himself a path.

"Well," Gisler grinned around his cigarillo, "if nothin' else that sunnuva bitch'll pull eyes away from us." Seldon shrugged, admitting that it was a true statement. Then her eyes returned to the corpses of the five teenagers at their feet.

"It doesn't even seem fair, does it?" Randall asked from a few paces toward the security booth.

"There's no such thing as 'fair' in a fight," Drake said, sounding hard and cold.

"That, right there," Gisler said, "is gospel."

"Still," Randall said, shining a light into the security station's interior, "I'm beginning to think these idiots would be tearing themselves to pieces even without our help."

"Considerin'," Drake replied, "that S'jar t'Chk has manipulated us from day one in order to set me up as a patsy for crimes against people that'd happily skin me alive just to say they'd done it and enslave the rest of my people, includin' you nice folks," he nodded in Randall's direction, "just to make a point? Well let's just say that I'd prefer to take the time and make sure this particular son of a bitch is put down properly." As he was talking every human face turned to look at him. Frank was already stationed behind one of the floor mounted repeaters and Ho t'Snt was beside Randall, peering into the checkpoint office. But Gisler, Pierce, and Randall were all looking at Drake with the same expression. Which meant they all looked as if someone had just rung their bells for them. It wasn't often the grunts got a clear view of the big picture.

"Right," Seldon interjected sharply. "Well, as much as I love these little knitting circles I believe we have a job to do. So you all think it might be a good idea to see what kind of kit these idiots left for us? Or maybe we should just stand out here in the open until someone else takes a shot at us?" Her eyes turned to the hatch to her right, and the lockers visible through the HyperGlass windows in the security station. "Randall!"

"Yeah, Chief?"

"Get that hatch open," she nodded to the booth, "and find out what's in those lockers. Let's see about some upgrades."

"On it," Randall replied.

"Pierce!" she turned to face him.

"Ma'am?" he replied.

"Find us a route to the core," she told him, confident that it wasn't necessary to elaborate and that he'd find the path of least resistance on his own.

"Aye aye," he replied and an instant later his eyes glazed over as he began interacting with the cyberops software through his neural interface. She turned to see that Fank, Gisler, and Ho t'sNt were already establishing a perimeter. Her eyes flitted back over to see Jack try the hatch, not because he expected it to be unlocked but just because that's what you did. Why bother with a lengthy hacking process if the enemy was stupid enough to leave the door open. It never was, but you always checked. A moment later both she and Randall were staring at the empty space the pressure hatch had just occupied while wearing the same shocked expression. Then Jak turned to face her with a bemused shrug.

She just rolled her eyes and gave him a wave. 'Carry on.'

"Doesn't exactly run a tight ship, does our clan leader?" Drake asked from beside her.

"With his crew in the state their in?" she replied, with a scoff and disgusted shake of her head. "I'm amazed this tub is even flying."

********

Ea't ripped a bite from the beef jerky he'd 'appropriated' from the galley behind him. There was a security checkpoint ahead of him, complete with a tripod mounted heavy repeater capable of spitting out kilojoules of plasma every sezura, and a ray shield that could effortlessly make accessing the upper level of the ship a tedious, frustrating and, not to mention, dirty proposition. Ea't hated crawling through jefferies tubes. Fortunately the three guards watching the station looked to be about as bright as the rest of the crew on the Brimstone, meaning they'd already spent most of their brain cells by huffing solvents and paint thinners. He'd been watching them for several mizura when the explosion he was waiting for made every head turn and look down the corridor.

The galley was one hundred and thirty seven meters behind him, and that was cutting corners, which meant that he'd have to wait another few sezura before entering the stage. In the meantime the security guards jabbered and argued with each other. One of them thought they should investigate the explosion. Another said they should stay and continue to man the security station. The third really liked the big gun and was pretending to shoot things with it. Ea't ripped another bite free of the jerky and stuffed the rest of the hunk into his coat pocket. While he waited he chewed. The two that were arguing were nearly on the verge of coming to blows when Ea't decided that enough time had passed. He was tempted to wait and see which, if either, would prevail in the contest but suspected that neither had the necessary steel to actually throw the first punch. Besides, he was on a deadline. He fully expected Drake to remove S'jar t'Chk's head in the near future. Which meant that he needed to find the weasely little psychopath first and conclude their business. So while he finished chewing he deliberately mussed his topknot and dishevelled his clothes. Then he started screaming.

"HAY-ELP!" he bellowed from the shadows, turning his head one way and then slowly the other to change the way the sound reached his enemy. "SPLIT SAY: HAY-ELP!" All three guards looked up from what they were doing, two from their argument and the third from the imaginary enemies he was slaughtering. At which point Ea't ran in place for a moment to both cause his footsteps to echo and work up his breath. Then he ran out of the shadows with his hands in the air. "HAY-ELP!" he wailed at them. "SPLIT NEEDS HAY-ELP!" They were all watching him with wide eyes and the same bewildered expression. He turned and pointed back toward the galley. "GALLEY ON FIE-ER!" An instant later all the three guards were running down the corridor. He was certain it was just to look, not actually combat the blaze, but either way served his purposes. He maintained his 'horrified and overwhelmed' demeanor until all three of the guards ran past him. "FOOD BURNING!" Then, the instant their backs were to him, he rolled his eyes, drew one of his pistols and quickly shot all three in the back of the head.

"Stupid," he muttered and dropped his pistol back in it's holster. The mag lock caught at the same moment the last of the three collapsed lifelessly onto the deck. He then walked back around the corner where he'd been hiding and collected the duffle bag that he'd filled up in the kitchen. He then proceded to investigate the security booth the three idiots had vacated. He stepped past the ray shield emitter and glanced into the tiny closet that should have been inhabited by fierce eyed security guards. There was another porno feed on the security monitors. On the desk he found a toddler's picture book that had been defaced so that it now belonged with the porno, a partially disassembled gauss pistol that had been damaged during the process, a remote controlled propeller drone that had seen better days, two more plasma grenades... and a child's toy that looked like a multicolored cube made of velvet. There was a handle stuck into one side of the cube. Ea't stared at that cube for several moments before curiosity got the better of him. Then he cranked the handle. The instant he let it go the handle started unwinding and a plinky-plonky music emerged from within the cube, along with a creepy mechanical voice singing to the tune:

"Half a pound of tuppenny rice!
Half a pound of treacle!
That’s the way the muh-uney goes,
Pop! goes the weasel."


At the word 'Pop!' a clown with a nightmarish grin popped out of the top of the box, threw it's arms wide and began to produce an awful mechanical laugh. Ea't stared at the thing for a moment pondering the sadism of humans who would give such things to children. Then he heard the sound of the Brimstone's heavily accented security chief echoing through the corridors behind him. The man was screaming from back near the galley. After taking a moment to admire the man's fortitude Ea't glanced back down at the child's toy. Then he bared his teeth in a terrible smile. He'd just had an idea.

*******

Braun was furious. Some of that was his temperment. Some of it was knowing that there were now seven toonsies that had already killed several hundred of his brethren tearing through his ship. Some of it was the immense frustration that came from realizing that the Brimstone's defenses, for which he was responsible, were not up to the task of stopping this enemy. But mostly it was just good, old-fashioned pain.

Just before the grenade went off he'd managed to close the hatch before leaping behind the bulkhead that separated the kitchen from the pantry. This one act saved his life. The grenade was several grams of high explosive within a sheath of priming agent, incendiary gel and shrapnel. When the grenade exploded the gel ignited to supplement the explosive shockwave with superheated plasma. The goop bubbling away in that kettle had been an improvised form of napalm. Which meant that when the plasma grenade exploded it smashed the stove and nearby counters, damaged the walls, flattened the furniture, and pulped the corpses around it. But it also instantly atomized, ignited and dispersed several gallons of sticky, highly flammable gel... at roughly ten thousand meters per second. The hatch between the kitchen and pantry had still been in the process of closing when the explosion hit, which meant the brute force of the shockwave had been blunted but the aerosolized napalm had still been blasted into every nook and cranny within a thirty meters or so of the explosion, including the pantry. Braun was knocked clean off his feet, thrown across the compartment and buried beneath the pantry foodstuffs, shelving, and the bodies of the suffocated Split and traumatized Teladi. But it was the napalm that delivered him unto hell.

By the time Braun regained his senses that napalm was everywhere, and it was on fire. Every exposed surface was ablaze... including much of Braun himself. By the time he managed to dig himself out from under the collapsed shelving, the burning remains of the kitchen stores, and the two corpses that, by then, looked much like overdone barbecue, his clothing was on fire, his armor had melted to the back of his arms and legs, and the skin on the back and left side of his head was melting, transformed into a gooey, sticky mass that screamed like hell itself had taken up residence in his flesh. He'd managed to break the glass covering a fire fighting kit that hadn't been lost or vandalized and collected a full-faced breathing unit that he was quite sure had saved both his life and his eyesight. Yet when he staggered out into the corridor he'd been on fire and burning brightly enough to cause the mad, inbred fools in the corridor to leap back in screaming, supersticious terror.

Needless to say, Braun was not in a good mood. He spared the two knuckleboys that had the sense to put him out with a fire extinguisher but the rest he'd blistered with all the curses he knew for being imbeciles, for allowing two of their brethren into the kitchen after he'd told them all to stay put. Then he shot the one who talked back to him... and the one who gaped the widest at the death of the other. So this time when he told them all to stay put he was fairly sure they'd obey him. Even so he made a point of resting his hand on the grip of his pistol when he gave them their instructions.

"Fu'st ony'ye maives n' A'll peel ye're feckin' domes! Go'het?!" They all took several paces away from him and stared back at him with empty eyes and blank expressions. "Doon't! Moooove!" He roared at them and waited for at least one of them to nod. The first one that did he pointed at. "Yiuuh! If ony a these heah takes so mooch as a staep in tha' diraection ye let me know! Awrite?!" The knuckleboy nodded at him.

Braun gave them all a furious glare and then turned to face the security station. There were three gunboys laying on the deck like forgotten dolls. All three had been shot in the back of the head and, judging by the way they lay and the position of their weapons, they'd been running when they died. 'Ye daft eejits!' He thought hatefully. They'd run right by the cocksucker without ever realizing he was a threat. Ten meters away the security station was set up to block the corridor. The cover was up and the cannon was ready to fire. But the shield emitter was silent and the three that should have been manning the cannons lay dead at his feet. But what concerned him, what inspired an almost supersticious terror within his breast, was what lay just in front of the shield emitter. There, placed perfectly in the center of the corridor, aligned with the deck grating and the bulkheads, was some kind of child's toy. It was a perfect cube covered in velvet with patches of bright, primary colors all over it. One side of it had a hole that looked as if something was supposed to be inserted into the side of it.

Braun approached it slowly with his hand on his sidearm. He was still several paces away when the thing spontaneously began to play a plonky-plinky music and sing at him with the terrifying mechanical voice used for all children's toys.

"Every night when I-ee get home
the monkey’s on the tay-ble.
Take a stick and knock it off,
Pop! goes the weasel!"


Just as the thing sang the word Pop! the top of the box flipped back and a red-haired, big-nosed clown lept up out of the box, threw its arms wide and began to laugh. Braun took a reflexive step back and drew his sidearm. It took a moment before he realized the thing wasn't going to explode and vaporize him. Before he could breathe a sigh of relief, however, he heard one of the muscleboys start screaming behind him. He turned his head just in time to see the screamer collect one of the weapons from the deck with every intention of shooting the toy. The expression on the moron's face left no doubt that he'd suffered some kind of childhood trauma involving a clown. Without thinking Braun drew, aimed and fired, filling the muscleboy with holes until the fool collapsed, dropping the weapon back to the deck.

For a moment he simply stood and collected his breath. His heart felt like a triphammer in his chest. After several sezura of watching the wall to wall mob of idiots stare back at him from down the corridor Braun shoved his weapon back into its holster. His burns were screaming. His head was throbbing in time with his heart. He turned back to the toy and squinted at it. Then he spat and started forward again, deliberately giving the thing a wide berth. Then he glanced back at the mob and pointed.

"Doon' TOUCH th'bloody thing! Aw'RITE?!"

Several of them nodded but as Braun turned back to the security checkpoint the sight of that toy caught his eye. Bright, primary colors seemed to jump out at him from the dirty, cold grey steel of the deck plating. The clown all but seemed to glow, decked out in yellow and blue with bright red hair and a terrifying, toothy grin. With that one look Braun decided to quicken his pace despite the nods behind him. After several sezura and about fifteen meters of corridor he glanced back just in time to see a small crowd of muscleboys gathering around the jack in the box. One of them was crouched down and appeared spellbound. It was the very moron who'd nodded every time he asked a question. Before Braun could so much as bark at them to back off the idiot picked the cube up off the deck... where it had been sitting on top of a drain in the deck, a drain missing it's cover, a drain that had been filled with more of the goop that prick had made in the kitchen, a drain with a plasma grenade sitting on top like the cherry on an ice cream sunday. As the box was lifted into the air Braun heard the sound of a plasma grenade's priming alarm.

"Aw SHITE!"

********

"Range to primary targets now fifty kilometers, Captain," Ensign Javik informed him.

H'nt nodded to acknowledge the information.

"Range to fighters?" Chinomu demanded.

"They're spread out, ma'am," Ensign Javik replied. "Most are maintaining positions in front of their capital ships. There is a breakaway group moving toward the sector's western reaches..."

"Composition?" Chinomu interjected.

"Three kestrels, ma'am."

"It is time," H'nt looked up to the viewscreens showing him the two very different bridges of the Swords of Aggreivance and Vengeance. On the Minotaur F'ght Fr'm R'ng nodded the instant he looked up at her. He shifted his gaze and Ch't F'rst bared his teeth in fiery anticipation. A moment later both began barking orders at their crews. He glanced at Chinomu and saw that she was studying the sector map. It was the three kestrels that concerned her. He suspected he knew why and, if right, it was a threat. Even so he lifted his gaze to the fleet arrayed before them. The board was set, the pieces were in motion, and the game was about to begin in earnest. Chinomu would handle the kestrels. His job was the approaching armada. They'd made their opening. He was curious to see what they'd make of his counter.

********

S'jar t'Chk couldn't quite find any words. The ringing in his head seemed to have returned. Sparky was up on the holo-projector, looking down at the bridge. The boy looked very uncomfortable. He was also speaking. S'jar t'Chk could see the boy's lips and hands moving as he talked and talked. But S'jar t'Chk was stuck on one of the first words Sparky had said to him. "Incinerated?" he asked, as if not quite understanding the word.

"Uh... y-yes, my lord," Sparky nodded.

"All of them?" t'Chk asked.

"I don't know, my lord," Sparky replied. "All of the cameras are now down in that corridor. I just know what I saw after the explosion."

"Which was?"

"Uh... d-dead bodies, my lord," Sparky told him, looking pale. "A lot of dead bodies. All of 'em burned to a crisp like they'd melted into the walls and floor and..."

"Where is Braun?" t'Chk cut him off.

"I..." Sparky squinted at him, obviously believing the worst but too afraid to confirm it. "I don't know, my lord."

"I see," t'Chk whispered. In the back of his mind he could hear the cruel, callus booming of his father's laughter. At the imagined sound his hands became claws on the leather armrests of his captain's chair. 'Shut up! he thought at the old man. 'Shut up! You're dead!' It didn't matter. The old man was profoundly, sadistically amused.

S'jar t'Chk clenched his jaw and stared at the obsidian tiles of the Brimstone's command deck. He could feel the tapestry unravelling. He needed Drake captured and contained. Instead the man was like some horrible infestation working its way through his ship! "Tell me," he said, lifting his gaze back to Sparky, "is there anything you do know? Or, more importantly, is there anything you can do to stop Drakey Boy from TAKING MY SHIP!?" He didn't remember getting to his feet. He didn't even realize he'd done so until the burning in his back demanded his attention.

Sparky was squinting down from above him, obviously unsure of what to do.

"NO?!!!" S'jar t'Chk roared. "NOTHING?!!!"

"It's the ayjee eye, my lord!" Sparky whined. "It blocks me! I've tried closing off sections of the ship so I could vent the enemies into space! I've tried..!"

"I don't CARE!!!" t'Chk roared. He noticed the heads glancing in his direction. He didn't look but he could feel the eyes of his crew upon him. He could feel the same wide eyed expression on every face. It wasn't just fear. It was doubt. They were losing faith in him. "Sparky," he said forcing a wide, toothy grin onto his face, "we need to stop them. YOU need to stop them!"

"I know, my lord! I've been trying!"

S'jar t'Chk cut him off with a raised hand. When Sparky settled down t'Chk went on. "We are sooo close, Sparky. We just need a little more time and..." S'jar t'Chk, who was once Arthur Ramsey, forgot what he was about to say. Through the forward bridge windows he saw two strands of light expanding outward from somewhere near the weapons complex. The very first thought to go through his mind was surprise. He'd anticipated the possibility of Drake's fleet firing upon them, but in his mind it was always ship to ship combat as a prelude to a boarding operation. Not once had he ever considered that the boy might respond with annihilation. Yet as he watched he saw over two hundred of the nuclear-tipped hammer heavy topedoes spreading out into the dark. It took nearly thirty sezura [1 min] before he realized that the Brimstone was not being targeted. The ship's AI was silent despite all the great many nuclear tipped candles out in the dark. Then, finally, it occurred to him that Drake, the little shit, was spending HIS nukes!

********

Thane watched it happen, the moment he'd been both waiting for and dreading all day long. For the last three stazura [13 hours] he'd been trying to come to terms with the fact that it was inevitable. The clan leaders were who and what they were. They were predators who thought they were on the scent of grand game. And the boy was who he was, and he would not be their prey. When push came to shove and shove came to blows the boy would show them a strength none of them were prepared for. Thane knew it. He'd known it the moment he'd first seen the footage from Uranus. He'd known it the first time he'd looked into the boy's eyes. Knowing something was one thing. Seeing it, though, was something else entirely.

The armada had spread out. The clan leaders didn't trust each other and it was obvious in the spacing of their ships. Instead of a single armada there were five separate fleets all flying in the same direction, with Mary Anne O'Riordan on her own in the far rear of the formation. Abmanckusset and Wen Digo were practically jostling for the vanguard, flying their massive gunships toward Drake's ships as fast as the destroyers would move, with carriers just behind and corvettes and fighters flying a screening formation ahead. It was obvious that they both intended to weather the shock of Drakhar's initial barrage and land marines on the complex. Behind them S'jar t'Chk's ships flew in close formation while being flanked by the teladi ships fifteen or so kilometers off their starboard side and Nicodemus' ships twenty or so off their port. Meanwhile Mary Anne O'Riordan flew alone nearly twenty kilometers behind even Nicodemus, who was, himself, lagging behind the others. Thane suspected they were both more curious than determined, watching and waiting to see what would happen. When Abmanckusset and Wen Digo's ships reached a point roughly fifty kilometers from the weapons complex their wait came to an end. The camera showing Drakhar's ships suddenly zoomed in on the two missile frigates. Both the minotaur and the cobra had begun vomitting blue fire into the night. Dozens upon dozens of bright blue candles streamed outward from the minotaur before arching forward toward the armada. The cobra, like all Split designs, was both simpler and more straightforward. It simply launched its ordnance forward from it's wings. The candles of the torpedos quickly separated into clusters of bright blue flames, all streaking toward one or another of the capital ships in t'Chk's armada.

For a moment Thane actually held his breath. He lacked the ability to count hundreds of missiles in simultaneous flight. Yet even so the swarm seemed light, especially with the fighter screen most of those ships were flying. A moment later, however, the feed zoomed in again and he saw that the missile frigates were still at work. Only now they were spitting forth an enormous swarm of dirty yellow pinpoints, the thrusters behind flail barrage missiles, all swirling into tunnels of fire aimed at t'Chk's armada. He exhaled forcefully and clenched his jaw. Most of the carriers in that formation were flying corvettes and fighters as a missile screen. The captains of those missile frigates intended to smash those screens and make sure their nukes reached their targets. Yet even so the number of nukes in flight seemed light, which meant this was a demonstration, not a killing stroke.

Thane exhaled a slow sigh of relief. "Good lad," he whispered. "Aye, good, smart lad."

Others, however, didn't seem to be interested in counting little blue candles. The Bloody Mary was the first to jump away. Thane shook his head, briefly wondering what the hell Mary Anne had been doing in that formation in the first place. Then one of the Teladi station movers jumped away. Then all three of Nicodemus' ships followed suit. And suddenly the armada looked a great deal less impressive.

********

"Uhm," Chinomu asked, looking up at Captains Ch't F'rst and F'ght Fr'm R'ng, "you did make sure to exclude the Brimstone from those torpedoes' targeting parameters, right?"

********

It took the better part of a mizura [96 seconds] for Drake's missiles to reach S'jar t'Chk's armada. Watching them, Thane wasn't sure he breathed at all. Then the flails crashed into Abmanckusset and Wen Digo's fighter screen and Thane shuddered as the last of his breath forced itself out from what felt like the very bottom of his guts. His cameras in Weaver's Tempest were over fifty kilometers from the onslaught, and from their vantage the death of a single fighter was little more than a soundless puff of fire and smoke. Yet Thane saw dozens of such puffs and found it very easy to imagine the horror the crews of those ships were experiencing as their shields collapsed, their armor was blasted into flaming shrapnel, and their hulls collapsed under the onslaught before spilling precious atmosphere out into the hungry void and their matter/antimatter or fusion engines went critical and sundered the night. In just a few sezura both Abmanckusset and Wen Digo's fighter screens were annihilated. Most of their corvettes and a small number of their heavy fighters survived but few, if any, were in a position to defend their capitals from the wall of nuclear fire bearing down on them. A few sezura after that the flails reached past Abmanckusset and Wen Digo to hammer the planes escorting the Brimstone and the remaining Teladi. Thane saw a single, bright flare of light and guessed that one of the Teladi corvettes had been running undershielded.

Then the first of the hammer heavy torpedoes were within firing distance of the Monster. Thane watched as the akuma attempted to defend herself with drones, mosquito missiles and cannonade. He watched as many of the incoming nukes were destroyed, counting to sixteen before losing track. But then the torpedoes were exploding against the aging warship's top and starboard sides; brilliant flares of light and power rippled like a handful of pepples cast into a pool. He saw the Monster's shield fail. He saw the massive hits to her armor and watched great pieces of debris and shrapnel blasted off into space. Twenty kilometers off the Monster's starboard side Abmanckusset had chosen to sacrifice his remaining fighters in a desperate attempt to save his own destroyer. The Heaven's Hammer was using phased shockwave generators to destroy the incoming torpedoes, atomizing many of her own guardians in the process. When the wave finally passed them by, the Monster was scarred and blasted across her top and starboard flank but still flying. The Heaven's Hammer fared much better. Her shield was surely in the red but holding. Behind them, however, both clan's shuri's were critically injured. The Wild was belching fire into the dark while the the White Flame drifted, seemingly without engines.

Then the nukes were past Wen Digo's Night clan and Abmanckusset's Reavers. It was then that Thane noticed something unsettling. There were still a great many nukes in flight; enough, Thane would have wagered, to account for every capital ship that had been approaching Drake's complex when the order was given to fire. Yet five of those ships had jumped away. The Teladi TL on t'Chk's starboard side was of little concern both because of the fewer torpedoes fired at it and because of the remaining Teladi ships to distract the targeting systems of the now hunting nukes. The Brimstone's port side, however, was completely exposed. Both the Bloody Mary and all three of Nicodemus' capitals had been flying behind and to the Brimstone's port side. All four were warships which would have been afforded a higher number of nukes from the boy's missile frigates, and all four had jumped away. Which left all of those torpedoes free to find another target... and every last one of them was now turning toward the Balefire, Demon, and Brimstone.

********

"JUMP!!!" S'jar t'Chk roared at his bridge. "JUMP TO THE BEACON BY THE GATE! DO IT!!! DO IT NOWWW!!!

********

They'd reached the most dangerous part of any boarding op. They'd pressed the defenders back to their final holdout. Now the last of the ship's guardians had rallied for a final stand. Seldon had been expecting it but it was still nerve wracking. Her squad was less than fifty meters from the hatch to the computer core, but it was a choke point with no other way through and there were dozens of Set'jak yaki shooting at them from fortified positions. The corridor was filled with hypervelocity weapons fire and exploding shrapnel. Despite never taking a direct hit her shield was in a constant state of recharge.

Frank was still in the lead, and deliberately drawing fire away from the rest of them, but she was watching new scars appear in his armor and had already seen one thin, nicotine yellow rivulet of blood running down his leg. The big guy never complained, though. He never faltered, and never failed to put the hurt on the enemy. The screaming thunder of his repeater defined the fight. When he opened up the enemy would recoil, ducking down and behind cover. A moment later they'd look up to discover the hard way that their enemy had taken aim while they were recovering. Several would die before the Yaki retaliated. Then her squad would all be driven down until Frank's shield recharged.

Meanwhile, the ship itself had turned upon her masters. The ray shields and deck mounted weapons refused to cooperate with the t'Chk's Yaki, forcing them to use hand held weaponry. The half-walls and cover positions that, under normal circumstances, would be concealed within the deck or bulkheads would suddenly retract or fold back into concealment, often just as Kao t'Kt leaned out to fill the corridor with hypervelocity slugs. Once, one of the ray shields flickered to life just in time to deflect a thrown grenade back behind the Set'jak position. So where she and her squad were grossly outnumbered their flanks and rear were secure and they were slowly gaining ground. Then, suddenly, the laws of physics seemed to fold, and the air itself grew dense and hard as her perspective stretched'. It was a familiar, if forever uncomfortable experience.

"Did we just JUMP?!" she bellowed over the gunfire.

"Aye," Drake replied through the radio in her ear. "If I had to guess t'Chk didn't like the the sight of all my nukes coming straight at him..."

"NUKES?!" she exclaimed. "ARE OUR OWN SHIPS FIRING ON US?!"

Drake looked up from where he was hunkered down across the corridor and showed her his most devilish grin. "Only a little," he purred.

********

For an instant the Brimstone was in two places at once. There were simultaneous flashes of light from its position between the Balefire and Demon and also from beside the jump beacon that t'Chk's allies had used to enter the sector. A third camera began streaming to the right of the rest of t'Chk's disintegrating armada. This one showed him the Brimstone, alone but uninjured, only several dozen kilometers from the gate.

Less than five sezura later the swarm of hammer torpedoes began colliding with both the Teladi and Set'jak ships. Moments after that one of the Teladi ryu's died in a hail of apocalyptic fire, flaring outward in the brilliant nova of uncontrolled matter / antimatter annihilation. Thane winced and bared his teeth, silently cursing the idiot captain for bringing her ship into this madness undershielded. Then he shifted his eyes as the Demon and Balefire began taking hits. Nuclear explosions rippled across their port and top sides. Then there was a terrible flare of light and, for an instant, he was certain the Balefire had just died. Then he realized it wasn't an explosion but a jump flash as its twin appeared beside the Brimstone fifty kilometers away. A moment later another eruption of light consumed the Demon. Thane reflexively glanced toward the Brimstone and Balefire but there was no twin corona. He inhaled softly, feeling a sudden distant heaviness. Several hundred lives had just been snuffed out. S'jar t'Chk's senshi, the Demon, had been destroyed.

For a few more sezura Thane watched as the remaining torpedoes continued hunting targets but, by this point, they'd already expended much of their fuel. The Teladi shuri took several more hits but the barrage was complete. The total number of ships lost was difficult to determine. Dozens, if not hundreds of fighters, certainly, plus several corvettes, but also two massive ships with crews numbering at least in the hundreds. Thane shuddered as he sucked air into his belly. Then he froze as the same breath slipped away again. His earlier calculation had been correct. If not for the inadequate shielding of the TL and the caution of Mary Anne and Nicodemus, that barrage would not have killed a single capital ship. As if to confirm this a fourth feed leapt to life to the left of Drakhar's forces.

"Message from the Necromancer," his agent, Jaden, informed him, sounding just a touch breathless herself. "They're broadcasting in the clear." A moment later Thane was looking at H'nt c'Pu as he stood on the grey and obsidian command deck of the Necromancer. The Split stood with his fists planted on his hips, directly beside a pistol and jatra. His chin was thrust toward the camera and his eyes were blazing a deep, emerald green.

"Split say: come no further!" The Split leaned toward the camera. "Any ship to approach this complex will be destroyed! This is last warning." An instant later the message from the Necromancer ended but the feed from Jaden continued. A new camera feed wobbled and swung around as the woman directed a camera at herself. Thane could see the compartment and windows behind her. She herself was lit only by the distant gold and green light of Weaver's Tempest but Thane could see both the intelligence and curiosity on her face.

"That was one hell of a warning shot," she told him.

Thane grunted.

"Are we ready for this, Dockmaster?" she asked.

Thane looked at Wen Digo's and Abmanckusset's ships. They'd cut engines to hold position where they were but the sector map was showing three kestrels moving around the western side of the complex. He activated his own transmitter. "Stay focused, lass," he told her. "It's not over."

********

Continued...


_________________
A Pirate's Story.pdf(KIA) by _Zap _ From Nothing.PDF(complete) by _Zap _ Prodigal Son(active) Original Thread, Prodigal Son_PDF


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Scion Drakhar



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PostPosted: Fri, 16. Jun 17, 21:44    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

...continued.

Seldon watched as the enemy's morale broke. She'd seen a big Paranid giving orders to the rest and promptly put a hypervelocity slug through its center eye. In that instant the last of the enemy's leadership became nothing more than meat on the deck. Without the will of that leadership to hold them together the Brimstone's defense disintegrated. Seldon watched as what had, just a sezura before, been a coherent opposing force shatter into several dozen pieces. Each one of those pieces promptly turned and fled, scrabbling over its neighbor or the bodies of friends, or just cowered behind bits and pieces of cover. To her eyes they even moved like feral things, terrified animals without dignity or honor whose only concern was self preservation. They retreated into the forward sections of the ship while their fellows died to the thunder of Frank's repeater or were cut down by sniper and light repeater fire. Then the last of them were gone, vanished into the shadows of cubby holes and maintenance tubes, or just fleeing helter skelter into the bowels of the ship.

Without targets to destroy Frank stopped firing. The silence that followed had weight. She took a slow breath as her eyes moved, as they always did, across the dead. It never failed to amaze her how the living could be reduced to cooling meat and fluids strewn about the deck like marionettes with severed strings. A moment later she shifted her gaze to the great, circular hatch protecting the computer core.

"Pierce," she said and he turned to look at her. She nodded at the vault. "Get that hatch open." Then she turned back to the bloody and blasted corridor. They were currently alone but there were still enemies in the vicinity. She thought it unlikely they'd be able to organize a counterattack but she was not about to bet her life on it. "The rest of you secure this area. Set up a perimeter and see if you can get those shields and cannons working." They all nodded and a moment later were moving to carry out their orders, stopping only to put slugs into any enemy combatants still clinging to life.

She turned to Drake and found him looking back at her. He wasn't smiling, but there was a light in his eyes that she hadn't seen in a while. He looked alive; fully present, focused and on point. As she met his eye he nodded.

"What?" she asked.

"I like watchin' you work," he told her.

She arched a very dubious eyebrow. "Sometimes, kid," she told him, "you worry me."

He snorted sardonically. Then he nodded to the vault they'd killed so many to reach. "How long 'til we get through that?" he asked.

She raised her eyebrows as she thought about it. "Dunno," she told him. "But this new cyberwarfare software seems to be everything we were promised. Worst case scenario we have to open the bulkheads and crank that big door open manually."

"How long will that take?"

"With plasma cutters and bypass kits?" she shrugged. "Five mizura."

"And without them?" he asked pointedly.

She met his eye. "Let's just say this software better do its damn job."

"Riight," he replied wryly.

She turned to look at Pierce. "How's it looking, Staff Sergeant?"

Pierce was staring into space. His eyes were glazed over. "Good," he told her. "There are alot of firewalls and that guy in the network is doing everything he can to screw us over, but I'd say we should have that hatch open in just a few mizura."

Beside her Drake nodded and once again she was struck by the light and focus in his eyes. It wasn't that he was happy or enjoying himself. He was simply all there, fully present and free from distractions. For an instant she remembered the kid who'd sauntered up to her while she was training on the pirate base in Aquisition Repository. He was a little tall but so painfully thin that she'd wondered what at the cause of his malnoutrition. Despite that the kid had the stones to razz her and the three other marines she'd been working with. He'd been feeling them out to see if he wanted to offer them a job and managed to be just as insulting as she could imagine, calling them suicidal psychopaths too stupid not to jump out of perfectly good spaceships, big apes with more muscles than sense, and even 'meatbags' who were perfectly suited to stopping bullets. He'd even clapped Hans, a man roughly the same size as Kao t'Kt, right on the shoulder and asked him if all the steroids he was taking had shrunk his balls yet. Yet, somehow, he'd managed not to piss them off. On the contrary, within just a few sezura all four of them had been laughing so hard that it was hard to breathe. She supposed they'd all been just too shocked by the little shit's temerity to kill him for it. In the end the other three turned him down. She hadn't, and at the time she didn't even know why. Seeing it again she understood. It was the light in his eyes that won her over.

It was strange to see it return here, of all places, and she wasn't quite sure of what to make of it. Yet seeing it, seeing that life and power in his eyes, it felt like a breath of fresh air, or the distant glow of dawn on the horizon after a very long night. From the very first day she'd joined his 'fleet' (just a few fighters and a space bus at the time) the kid had been... lucky. It wasn't the kind of luck that helped him at dice or cards. It was more like the kid was at the center of something huge. Modern society tended to be harsh with religion. Beliefs involving God or gods tended to be dismissed the same way adults dismissed Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Yet she'd never met a marine, a pilot, or astronaut who didn't have their little superstitions. And when it came to Drake and his ability to attract wealth and power those superstitions always went wild. She'd once walked into a very intelligent conversation between four marines that was discussing the possibility of the kid being a form of singularity, where a very specific form of gravity was focused, attracting very specific forms of energy and matter to it, as opposed to a black hole that ate everything. She hadn't participated. She wasn't philosophic by nature. But she'd listened. She'd listened whenever she heard people talking about the kid, and by listening she'd confirmed that it wasn't just a few marines or pilots in their cups talking out of their ass about the kid's ability. Everyone noticed. Everyone felt it. It got to the point after a while that whenever she thought about the fleet's success she'd end up picturing something that looked like a galaxy, a vortex of energy and matter all gathering toward a central point and Drake was that point.

So she didn't know what it was but, whatever it was, it was incredible. The first few weeks she'd worked for him had felt like she was caught in a tornado, swept up and being whisked away toward impossible horizons. The power surrounding the kid had just sort of pulled whatever he needed right out of the ether. Ships? Weapons? People? Money? All of it flooded to him like nothing she'd ever seen or imagined before. Then the Terrans hit and in the days that followed no one knew what to think. No one knew if the kid was alive or what would happen to the fleet or to them as individuals. In many ways they'd become the same as the wretched feral things just scrambling away from Frank's repeater. It was a scary time and the taste of defeat had been everywhere, so strong that it made the air itself bitter. And since then the kid had been... dimmer... somehow. The vortex was still there. He was still powerful. All she had to do was look at the weapons complex to see proof of that. But it was like he was injured somehow, and instead of some magic tornado the power around him felt like a maelstrom, pulling her out and down into some black depths. Yet now, all of a sudden, that light was back.

He noticed her attention then and turned to face her. As he did she saw the scars around his left eye and the day's worth of raspy stubble on his cheeks and chin. But she also saw a strength of will and a focus in his eyes that hadn't been there back when he'd been making fun of her and the other mercs in Aquisition Repository. In fact it was actually hard to believe that the man before her was that same skinny little smartass who'd hired her... was it really just two wozura [4 mos] ago? "What?" he asked, narrowing his eyes. She thought she even detected a hint of a smile.

She pursed her lips and shook her chin at him. "Nuthin'," she said. He gave her a slightly perplexed look and then turned away.

"We're almost through!" Pierce informed them and she quickly dismissed her meandering thoughts.

"Hey," she said to Drake. "Think it's time to call the calvary?"

He met her eye. Then he nodded. He held up his left hand so she could see him do it. The ring was invisible under the gauntlet he was wearing but she knew it was there. It was the same device he'd used to call for help when the Terrans kidnapped him. He pressed the tip of his thumb to the side of his forefinger and she nodded.

"Alright, ladies!" She barked at her marines. "Reinforcements are on the way."

She was rewarded with a very bored cheer. "Yay."

********

Scot "Hot Dog" Marval turned to the flight crew monitoring his plane from the launch tube's control booth and gave them a "thumbs up". They nodded back and the lights on either side of the tube switched from a rather adamant red to brilliant blue and finally to green. An instant later the catapult engaged and the fighter was accellerated from zero to one hundred meters per second in less than half a sezura. The g-force of the accelleration pressed him into the form fitting chair around him. An instant later he was in the black with the great bulk of the complex looming overhead on his left and the long lean lines of one of the Panthers to his right. He quickly found his targets on the sector map and marked them. A moment later the HUD showed him three red brackets just over fifty kilometers away. He pointed the kestrel's nose their way and maxed the throttle. An instant later he felt the invisible hand of accelleration induced gravity press him back into his chair like the hand of an angry god.

"Ah-shit!" he growled at the ship through clenched teeth. The pressure in his extremeties was already uncomfortable. A moment later the pressure softened as the ship's inertial dampeners caught up. "Damn, girl," he said to the plane, "I hope you're up for this." Considering what was ahead of him he wasn't feeling particularly confident. Through the rear-view camera he saw the Necromancer falling away behind him at an alarming rate. Then he glanced at the velocity indicator on his HUD. He was already doing over seven hundred meters per second. A twitch of his eyes put his focus on the three brackets indicating his targets. They were nearly fifty kilometers away and aiming for a point behind the complex. "Well," he said and thumbed back the cover for the ship's overdrive booster, "here goes nuthin'."

The instant he depressed the thumb trigger he felt gravity try to crush him into the chair behind him. The force of it was like an invisible hand covering his whole body. He felt the loose flesh on his face pull backwards as darkness rushed in from the edges of his vision. He clenched his entire body in an effort to keep enough blood in his skull to avoid G-LOC but it wasn't enough. He was blacking out. Then the ship compensated, the invisible hand lifted away from him and he gasped for breath.

"HOLY shit!" he cursed and glanced at the three brackets ahead of him. The numbers indicating distance to target were plummetting so fast that the numbers were barely comprehensible beside them. "Gunn's bloody nuts but this thing is fast!" Just then he realized that he could hear Commander Chinomu in his ear.

"Hot Dog come in! Can you hear me?!"

"I hear you, CAG," he replied. "But this is not what you'd call a user friendly experience. Distance to target twenty klicks and dropping fast."

"Just remember why you're out there," she scolded him. "If they manage to drop a beacon behind the complex our lives are going to get very uncomfortable. So if they drop any you've got five sezura to destroy them before Wen Digo jumps a carrier somewhere we can't shoot him!"

"Copy that," he replied. "Kill the beacons." He heard Chinomu barking more clarification at him but his distance to target was now only twenty kilometers and dropping fast. The three enemy planes were orbiting the complex on a wide, oblique orbit whereas he was cutting straight across on an intercept course. Which meant he was getting closer to his targets by roughly one point three klicks per second. "Yep," he said, cutting Chinomu off. "I read you. Nice chat but-ah, I gotta go." With that he cut comms with the CAG while she was in mid-sentence and promptly cued up the wasp missiles. Considering the speed these planes were capable of, his and theirs, the wasps would be useless for ship to ship combat, but they'd be just about right for shooting down an unarmored jump beacon.

He glanced at the range again and clenched his teeth behind the breathing apparatus fitted to his helmet. Ten kilometers. Eight kilometers. Six kilometers. He cut the booster while it was still well above overheating and brought up the weapons interface. He still couldn't see the planes themselves, only the red brackets indicating their position. Then those brackets spread out as the planes broke formation. He saw the glint of starlight across the hull of a black splinter. No time to select the target. He simply aimed and opened fire. Bright blue plasma lit up the space between them as he cut throttle and lifted his nose. He hurtled through the dark, flying past his enemy sideways with his finger locked down on the trigger. He was hoping to kill at least one of the enemy planes on his first pass. He got close. In fact, he got too close. In the blink of an eye his kestrel hurtled by the enemy kestrel with less than a fifty meters between them. He saw the impacts flare in his enemy's shield with his naked eye. An eyeblink later and he was nearly a kilometer away and easing the throttle forward again.

"Oh hell," he groaned as the g-forces slammed into him again. "This is gonna hurt..." He lined up on the injured enemy as one of the others came about to target him and the last bolted towards the shadow of the complex. Just as the second plane was targeting him he maxed the plane's throttle again, screaming in defiance of G-LOC.

********

On the viewscreen overhead Eri watched Hot Dog's plane as it flipped end for end and hit the thrusters again. In a split second the plane changed it's vector from over a thousand meters per second in one direction to nearly seven hundred meters pers second in nearly the opposite direction. To the uninitiated, with the range and the silence of the images, it wouldn't have looked like much. A pinball on a table top arcade game made more dramatic changes of vector. To a pilot, however, the significance of that maneuver was staggering. The plane just performed a 200G maneuver, more than enough to crush a human being into paste in an undampened environment.

"Good God!" Lucifer whispered from the overhead cameras.

Eri reflexively checked the feed from plane. The inertial dampeners had instantly redlined but were now moving back down into tolerable levels. They'd held, but for a moment Hot Dog had borne the brunt of nearly thirty G's worth of accelleration. The plane was maneuvering though and the cockpit camera showed the pilot turning his head as the plane lined up for another pass. She took a breath and exhaled audibly through pursed lips. 'Well,' she supposed, 'this is what all those upgrades to his nanites were for, right?' It was true, but even so she winced at the thought.

On screen Hot Dog's plane flew past one of the enemy's, overtaking the other kestrel while flying sideways. She watched the accellerated particle cannons of his kestrel burn through the other plane's limited armor and dump its guts into the void. Then, just as the second enemy began firing on him, Scot turned into the enemy and accellerated. In a split second Hot Dog was out of danger, underneath and behind his enemy, and throwing bright blue death at Wen Digo's fighter. In just three seconds the man had pulled three super heavy G maneuvers and was still flying.

Her eyes shifted to the position of the last kestrel, however, and then to H'nt c'Pu, who was still watching the armada. "It's not enough," she told him and the big Split turned his gaze upon her. "That lead plane is getting away from him. In a few sezura Wen Digo's going to have a jump beacon behind the complex and we won't be able to use the boomers to retaliate."

H'nt nodded. "Order Predator and Panther alpha to intercept," he said. "Send one wing Panther beta fighters to support."

She nodded and immediately turned to carry out his orders and contact those ships. Yet she couldn't help but wonder how many fighters the Wild still had in her belly and whether or not the Predator would be able to finish off that destroyer. So her mind was still racing when H'nt inexplicably ordered the Necromancer to jump.

********

Thane heard a whimper from below him and looked down to see Maggie, Duke, and Fred staring back up at him. All three looked concerned. At his attention they all began to wiggle just a little. At his smile Maggie dropped onto her forelegs and barked at him. He pulled several treats from his pocket and passed them out, but a moment later his gaze returned to the monitors above him. There was now a fifth feed from Jaden. This one was an extremely long range view of a dogfight taking place behind the weapons complex. At this range the planes involved were little more than splinters of light and darkness beyond the station's superstructure. Even so it was plain to see that the planes were extremely fast, and agile as horseflies. The cameras had all four planes bracketed for him, though; one in green and three in red. The three in red belonged to Wen Digo and it was plain to see what their intentions were. If they could drop a beacon behind the complex then Wen Digo could reposition his fleet and the boy's missile frigates wouldn't be able to respond. The one bracketed in green belonged to Drakhar and whoever was in the pilot seat of that one must have been made of steel.

Three on one odds were bad in most situations. Three on one odds while the ships involved were pulling upwards of a hundred G's? That was madness. Yet as Thane watched Drakhar's pilot managed to destroy one of his enemies, escape another and give chase to the lead. Thane took a breath, knowing what he was about to see before it happened. As the lead plane drew Drakhar's hunter away, the plane chasing Drakhar's fighter dropped a beacon. In the blink of an eye the boy's kestrel went end for end to rocket back the way it had just come. Thane clenched his jaw at the sight of it, knowing that the pilot was putting himself through hell for no reason. Just as Drakhar's kestrel exploded back toward the beacon behind him the lead plane dropped another in the opposite direction.

********

"DAMN IT!" Hot Dog screamed. He'd already bracketed the beacon dropped by the chase plane. It was exactly eight point seven klicks back the way he'd come. He loosed five wasp missiles in rapid succession, then two more for good measure. Then he flipped his plane over to target the one dropped by the lead plane. It was almost ten klicks away. He bracketed and loosed another half dozen wasps, then maxed his throttle and hit the booster just as the chase plane opened fire at him.

He cut throttle, allowing himself to hurtle through space, flipped his plane end for end and waited. The chase plane was pointed right at him. Just as the bright blue-green plasma lanced out from it toward him he hit the maneuvering thrusters to drop below the stream, then right, then up and to the left, all the while returning fire. All this took less than a sezura. Then, in the blink of an eye, the ships were past each other. He'd taken some hits to his shield. It was in the red but recharging quickly. His enemy was still flying but damaged. He pointed his front end at the lead plane and hit the overdrive. A sezura later he watched his plane eat the last of his energy cells. He checked the sector map and saw that the wasps had done their job. Both beacons were destroyed. Which is exactly when the kestrel he'd just damaged dropped another.

"Shit!" He cursed, cut throttle, flipped end for end again, bracketed the beacon and loosed the last of his wasps. Then he flipped back around, pointed his nose at the lead plane and hit the overdrive while saying a prayer that the son of a bitch behind him didn't have any more. The lead plane was nearly twenty klicks ahead of him. The chase plane behind him went end for end and flashed him with its thrusters as it rocketed in the other direction. If either of them had been equipped with three or more beacons then he'd already failed. He'd never be able to reach both of them in time. Just then the lead plane dropped its second beacon. He instantly bracketed it but watched the plane.

'Come at me!' he thought at the other pilot. 'Come ON! COME GET ME!' while a whisper in the back of his mind began counting down.

'Ten...'

The other pilot must have heard him. As he watched, Hot Dog saw that kestrel flip end for end and come about to defend the beacon it had just dropped instead of mooning him to put more space between them. Which told him that it didn't have another one.

'...nine...'

Ahead of him his enemy loosed a series of wasps. His plane was faster than they were but he was flying right into them. He turned to his left to draw them in one direction.

'...eight...'

He was doing over fourteen hundred meters per second, well over twice the top speed of the wasp swarms.

'...seven...'

The other plane was moving to cut him off by placing itself between him and the beacon.

'...six...'

He pulled the yoke hard to the right, throwing his plane into a sideways slide while keeping the throttle maxed.

'...five...'

He cut the overdrive booster to ensure he'd have power for his shields and weapons.

'...four...

He was coming in at an oblique angle. The beacon was now on his left. The wasps were banking hard to catch him but he knew he'd outrun them. The enemy pilot had him in her crosshairs but it was the shot that worried him.

'...three...'

He only had the one shot to destroy that beacon and he was coming in at nearly a thousand meters per second.

'...two...'

The enemy pilot opened up. Bright plasma lanced through the dark at him. He hit his manuevering thrusters to jet him up over the stream, watched as the other pilot compensated.

'...one!

He saw the targeting indicator flash into existence on his HUD, lined up his boresite and squeezed the trigger. He saw the enemy flash by him at a combined relative velocity of nearly fifteen hundred meters per second. An instant later he hurtled by the beacon, flying sideways as his PACs drained his plane's generator dry. An instant later he was staring into the brilliant white flash of a capital ship occupying two points in space simultaneously.

"SHIT!!" he roared.

Very distantly he was aware of Commander Chinomu. She was screaming at him to get the hell out of there.

********

There were over a dozen simultaneous jump flashes as Wen Digo's entire fleet jumped from the northern side of the complex to the southern. The Monster, the Wild, and half a dozen corvettes were momentarily in two places at once. Almost immediately the Wild began spewing fighters into the dark.

"Aye," Thane growled, "I knew ye'were holdin' back, ye dead eyed bastard."

His satellite feed informed him via the sector map that in addition to his two capitals Wen Digo also had five corvettes and two phantom class personnel transports in position behind the boy's complex, and Thane would have bet his last credit that both of those TP's were filled to capacity with combat ready marines intent on taking that complex.

********

"Ripcord!" Chinomu was screaming into the comms. "Hunter! Those TP's are your targets! They MUST NOT dock with that complex!" H'nt understood the frustration she was feeling. She was a warrior, a pilot, and wished to be in a fighter, leading that engagement from the front. Instead she was a hundred kilometers away, making decisions based on satellite feed and long range cameras while the Necromancer moved to fight another battle entirely. "Keep your pilots safe! Don't bunch up! Maintain situational awareness! And for God's sake stay the hell away from those capitals! Use the Panther and Predator for cover if you need to!" H'nt understood. She felt both useless and ashamed. He also understood the importance of that battle. The alpha complex was the prize they were all fighting for and Wen Digo was less than twenty kilometers away from claiming it.

He had his own battle to win, however. They'd recieved the Huruk'tar's signal, which meant Lord Drake, brother, and the marines were in position to take the Brimstone. Which meant that he, H'nt c'Pu, needed to be there to defend it when her shields came down. So the instant the Necromancer cleared the gate's superstructure he ordered the auster hauler M8 and every plane in his hangar to launch. The bomber was to destroy the Balefire as soon as the pilot had a clear shot. The fighters were to defend the Brimstone from her own fighters. Not liking the prospect of three to one odds, even for Chinomu's pilots, he ordered the Shirubāurufu and the Deceptor to jump down to Weaver's Tempest and join them.

********

S'jar t'Chk was stunned. The world wasn't making sense. His plans were in ruins. Drake was not only NOT DEAD, the little shit was FREE to roam his ship SLAUGHTERING the Brimstone's crew! He still didn't understand how that was possible. Drake and his bodyguard had been scanned when they came aboard! They'd had no heavy weapons! No explosives! And where the hell had they gotten that shield generator!? Worse still, the attack against the boy's weapons complex had stalled, halted by what could be called the very definition of a nuclear deterrant! He still couldn't believe the fool would open fire on his CLAN LEADER! Did titles mean NOTHING anymore?! Where was the respect for TRADITION?!! And the Demon! His poor, beautiful ship had been destroyed before it could jump to safety! And Wen Digo apparently had had a plan of his own all along! And now the creepy son of a bitch was in the process of moving to seize the complex for himself! And there was NOTHING he could do to STOP it! But worst of all? The Necromancer, the very frigate that HE had GIVEN to the boy... (for the small price of thirty five million credits)... had just jumped out of the gate and was now moving to attack him!

"LAUNCH the fighters!" he was screaming. "MAN the torpedos! Open FIRE! KILL THEM ALL!!!" The problem, however, was written plainly on every face on his bridge. His bridge crew was entering commands into their consoles or speaking into their headsets, but nothing was happening. Slowly, one by one, those faces began to turn toward him with the same empty, confused expression. He whirled to Fat Jack. "Tell the Balefire to defend us!" He whirled to his flight officer. "Why aren't my planes in the air?!" He whirled back to Fat Jack. "Get me Abmanckusset! That 'nid HAS TO HELP ME!" Then, somehow, he was outside himself, watching S'jar t'Chk scream. "HE PROMISED!" At the same time he remembered the twelve year old Arthur Ramsey. 'It's not fair!' Arthur had once screamed with the exact same tone. Then he felt the stinging in his foot and realized that he'd even stamped the deck.

"I cannot, mi'lord," Fat Jack told him. "The communications system won't respond."

In that instant a series of brilliant explosions drew his eye to the forward view screen. The Balefire had come about and was crossing through the Brimstone's path, giving him a clear vantage to watch as she was pummeled by tomahawk nuclear missiles. Just as he comprehended the magnitude of the punishment she was taking a blinding light seared the world white. S'jar t'Chk screamed wordlessly. An instant later the entire ship trembled as if she'd just hit an asteroid. The sudden lurching threw him off his feet. He slammed into the deck hard enough to chip a tooth and when he lifted his head a moment later he tasted blood in his mouth. His eyes instantly searched the forward windows for any indication of what had just happened.

"The Balefire seems to have been destroyed, mi'lord," Fat Jack informed him.

A moment later the moment was punctuated by the White Flame and Heaven's Hammer both jumping away. In the back of his mind S'jar t'Chk, who was once Arthur Ramsey, heard the sound of his father's laughter. 'You've lost, boy! Just as we all knew you would!' An instant later S'jar t'Chk was on his feet and running just as fast as they would carry him.

********

"That was the Balefire," Pierce informed them.

"Good," Drake nodded. "Take the ship."

"Copy that," Pierce replied. "Taking the ship. She should be broadcasting our IFF in five... four... three... two..."

********

Big ships vibrated. All of them did, really, but for some reason you noticed it more on big ships. When he was younger Ea't always wondered at that. He'd thought it should be the other way around. On smaller ships the vibrations were more violent and intense. Yet it was on the big ships, the frigates, carriers, and destroyers, that he always found himself aware of the vibrations. He supposed it was because smaller ships, especially the fighter classes, tended to start and stop more often, where the big ships were always running. The engines never stopped and they were felt in every bolt, panel, and frame on the ship. It was constant. It was ever present. Those new to space had trouble adapting to it. Those who lived in space tended only to notice when the noise stopped, because it was bad when it stopped. It meant the ship's heart had stopped. Ea't had his hands buried in the guts of a stubborn hatch when the Brimstone's heart stopped beating. The constant, ever present hum in the deck plates, bulkheads, lid... even the very air... went still. A heartbeat later the lights went out along with the artificial gravity. A moment later the lights came back on but they were all the red low power lights. The gravity came back on as well, but had been cut by two thirds. He grunted and ripped another wire free of its harness. Drake had just taken the ship. Which meant that he would soon be hunting for S'jar t'Chk. Ea't grinned. T'Chk would know that as well, of course, and would be looking to make a clean getaway before Drake could take his head.

He was just about to bypass the control unit and power the door directly when a man began screaming at him from down the corridor to his left. "HEY! YIUH! YES YIUH! YA GLAIKIT BLACK BASTURD! LOOK AT MAE WHEN AIM TALKIN' T'YA OR A'LL SHOVE MY BOOT SO FAR UP YER ARSE YE'LL HAVE A STAEL TOED T... uhn!" Ea't had drawn his right pistol, laid it across his thighs and squeezed the trigger all without looking up from the door panel. Ten meters down the hall S'jar t'Chk's security chief was hit in the chest by a kilojoule of phased discharge. There was a brilliant cascade of sparks in his peripheral vision. When they cleared the chrome toothed buffoon was gone. Ea't dropped the phase pistol back into the holser on his hip and then finished the bypass. A moment later the hatch hissed open in front of him. He got to his feet, popped his back, and then glanced down the corridor at what was left of the security chief. After a moment Ea't snorted and shook his head in mild disbelief.

The man was a study in blood and charcoal. His armor and clothing was blasted, charred and, in many places, melted to his skin. The man himself was so badly burned badly that most of his flesh looked like melting wax. Tufts of charred ginger hair and beard protruded from that wax at strange angles, often ending in abrubt little stubs. The man's eyes were brilliant hazel gems in pearlescent white settings staring out from a face that looked like a badly burned roast. Those eyes stared at him in complete shock while the man tried to gasp and wheeze his way through another breath.

"Hmph!" Ea't grunted, impressed. 'Tough bastard,' he thought. Then, 'good armor.' A moment later he stepped through the hatch on his way to a final rendezvous with S'jar t'Chk.

********

S'jar t'Chk wanted to scream. Then he realized that he was screaming. It just wasn't helping. He kept doing it anyway. He was practically running the hundred meters from the bridge to his apartment and his voice echoed through the halls around him. He just didn't understand. None of it made sense. The questions filled his entire world. It was like a two story drum inside his mind. 'HOW had the little shit done it?! HOW had his plan failed?! HOW had he miscalculated so badly?! HOW had he been reduced to fleeing his own ship?!' None of it made sense.

'Of course it does,' the old man told him, sounding so smug and self assured. 'All you have to do is accept the truth.'

"OH YEAH?!" he screamed, making the two muscleboys following him cringe behind him. "AND WHAT TRUTH IS THAT, DAD?!"

'That you are exactly what I said you were,' the old man told him pompously. 'Do you remember?'

"OH, SHUT UP!" he snarled.

'You DO remember. The old man sounded impossibly smug.

"Shut UP!" S'jar t'Chk screamed. "I KILLED you!"

'And couldn't even get that right,' his father countered. 'You're a failure, boy. You always were and will be until the day you die... which could be today, now that I think about it. What a homecoming we'll have. I'd ask if you like the notion of hell but I suppose the answer to that is in what you named your ship...'

"I! SAID! SHUT! UUUUUUUUP!" S'jar t'Chk closed his eyes, clenched his fists and screamed with every ounce of strength in his body. When he stopped he opened his eyes in surprised confusion and turned to follow the sound of retreating footsteps. After a moment he shook his head. His muscleboy bodyguards were gone. 'They ran away?' he wondered.

'Like rats fleeing a sinking ship,' the old man told him and S'jar t'Chk cringed. The old man wasn't laughing. He just sounded like he was. 'Didn't you used to have standards?'

The question staggered him. He shook his head. The ringing in his ears had returned, only it was coming from the center of his head. He blinked and tried to focus, which is when he noticed the graffiti. The top deck of the Brimstone was a posh environment. Obsidian tiles, grey carpeted walls, obscure lighting. It created a stark and ominous environment that had always made him feel both rich and powerful. Yet right in front of him, drawn into the grey carpet of his wall with some kind of paint marker, was a crude depiction of an impossibly well endowed woman on her knees in front of an equally well endowed man. What staggered him, though, was that the paint was fading and flaking away. Which meant it had been there for quite a while... and he'd never noticed it before.

"What the..?" He couldn't believe his eyes. The hatch to his apartment was only a couple dozen meters from where he was standing. Which meant he'd walked past that drawing every single day for however long it had been there... and he'd never seen it. He heard something rustling above him. He shifted his gaze and saw a piece of wax paper, the kind his chemists used to hold their LSD stamps. It was perhaps fifty centimeters long, dirty and wrinkled, and had been stuffed into the grill of the ventilation duct above him. He looked around then and noticed that the hallway was filthy. There was gargbage and litter of all kinds strewn about the deck. The walls were covered with various forms of filth, including several dried fluids that S'jar t'Chk, who was also Arthur Ramsey, thought looked suspiciously like they'd come from a human body.

'Aah, and the scales fall from his eyes...'

"What the frak?!" he whined. Just then something moved in his periphary. He turned his head and looked through the window of a nearby compartment and saw the Necromancer pulling up alongside the Brimstone. There were flights of susanowas flying patrol around it.

'Better get moving, boy.'

S'jar t'Chk, who was also Arthur Ramsey, began to run. It was past time for him to go. The thought of leaving his ship and crew... well, his ship, anyway... felt like getting his heart ripped out. But the ship was powered down. The engines were off, he felt very light on his feet, and the lighting was in power saving mode. Which meant the Necromancer was probably beaming more of Drakhar's marines onto the Brimstone right that very moment. Or had already. Either way it was time for him to go. The prospect of being caught and turned over to the boy was nearly enough to make him lose control of his bladder AND his bowels. He'd actually never lost control of his bowels before. He'd pissed himself after too much liquor and drugs, but he'd never shit himself. The sensation of feeling his anus de-constrict was more than a little horrifying.

A moment later he was at the hatch to his apartment. He was about to palm the hatch controls when he realized the door was already open. 'Did I leave it open?' he wondered, still stunned by the condition of his ship. There was even garbage directly outside his apartment! And someone had written 'BOSMAN!' in enormous red letters on the bulkhead over his hatch. He shook his head, feeling like he was waking from a long and very strange dream into a full blown nightmare. Then he stepped through the hatch into the corridor where all of his treasures were displayed. As he walked down that hallway it occurred to him that he should grab the more expensive and easy to carry pieces, like the paintings, and sell them once he got wherever he was going.

'Have I really lost?' he wondered in stunned silence. But before his mind could respond he realized that there was someone sitting at his desk. He froze as completely as a Teladi facing a firing squad and stared until his mind could process what he was looking at. There was a tall, red-haired Split sitting at his desk with a Boron squeaky toy in one hand and a plastic Tyranosaurus Rex in the other. The Split was making the Rex stomp around t'Chk's desk, knocking things over and shoving precious treasures onto the deck in its relentless pursuit of the fleeing Boron. The Split looked up and Arthur Ramsey stared straight into the terrifying, emerald green gaze of Ea't s'Quid. The Split bared his teeth in a... 'smile'... and at that precise moment the Tyranosaurus Rex lunged forward, catching the Boron by the throat. As Arthur watched, horrified, the Rex began to wiggle and shake like a dog breaking a rat's back.

A moment later his paralysis broke and S'jar t'Chk began screaming. "What the FRAK are you doing here?!"

"You have debt," Ea't informed him matter of factly. "Here collect."

"I have DEBT?!" S'jar t'Chk roared. He felt like he should be looking for a white rabbit with a timepiece. "Are you INSANE?! How did you get in here?! AND GET YOUR HANDS OFF MY...!"

Ea't's expression became... focused... and Arthur Ramsey felt the words dry up in his throat. It suddenly occurred to him that the Split was very well armed and that he was not. It also occurred to him that, with this particular Split, it probably wouldn't have mattered either way. So S'jar t'Chk took a breath in through his nose, forced his best smile onto his face, and spoke slowly and deliberately... in the interest of keeping his arms attached to his body. "Of course," he said, feeling his lips writhe across his teeth. "So what is it that you... want... old 'friend'?"

Ea't dropped the toys and stood up. Arthur Ramsey noted that even laying lifeless upon the desk the dinosaur still seemed to be mauling the Boron. Ea't came around the desk and threw his arms wide. S'jar t'Chk snarled and tried to step back but Arthur tripped on a fold in the once priceless carpet. A moment later Ea't s'Quid snatched him up in a fierce, rib and spine cracking bear hug. A moment later, as Arthur gasped for the breath that had quite literally been squeezed out of him, Ea't clapped him on both shoulders with enough force that S'jar t'Chk glared at him, angrily thinking that the buffoon had just sprained the ligaments in his neck.

"Good see you, 'old friend'!" Ea't grinned at him, and Arthur couldn't help but note how wonderfully suited to tearing flesh the Split's teeth really were. "BETTER...!" Ea't bellowed, as if he were shouting across a crowded loading dock or hangar bay and not cloistered in this quiet, shadowy sanctum surrounded by museum quality antiques and S'jar t'Chk's own amusements. Then the Split's expression darkened. "...when see prize you wagered and lost."

"LOST?!" t'Chk couldn't suppress his indignation. "I didn't LOSE!"

"DID lose!" Ea't thundered back at him.

"You bet me," S'jar t'Chk shook a finger in the Split's face, "that you could get pictures of Ban Dana in a compromising position with Queen Atreus AND Princess Menalaus and you DIDN'T!"

"Did," the Split replied. "Showed them to you."

"Oh puh-lease! I don't care what those hookers called themselves! You didn't..."

Ea't opened the holoprojector on his wrist. An instant later Arthur's face was literally inside the image of former President Ban Danna, wearing a black leather bondage outfit complete with ball gag, in what would be considered a VERY compromising position with two human women who were wearing green makeup and velvet tentacles... not to mention other, strapped-on appendages. "Call themselves QUEEN ATREUS and PRINCESS MENALAUS!" Ea't informed him. Loudly.

Ramsey stepped back, waving a hand as if trying to chase a bug away from his face. "Ugh!" he groaned. The image Ea't was projecting up his nostrils was very high definition and left NOTHING to the imagination.

"PAY UP!" the Split thundered into his face.

"And if I do you'll leave?" Ramsey whined at him.

"Yes," Ea't told him, in a tone that said 'of course!'

"And I'll be ah-live when you do?" S'jar t'Chk demanded from behind bulging eyes.

Ea't nodded. "Alive," he agreed.

"Fine," Arthur relented. This damn Split had always been impossible to deal with. "It's over there," he pointed at one of many bookshelves in his personal library.

"Get." Ea't told him.

"You do realize that I'm in a bit of a HURRY here, don't you?!" S'jar t'Chk demanded testily.

The Split grinned at him. "Then should make haste."

S'jar t'Chk cursed under his breath but quickly crossed to his library. He had to turn on a light to find the book that Ea't wanted. It was a handsome leather bound volume roughly half a thousand pages thick. He briefly glanced at the cover, "The Poetry of World War II", and shook his head. Then he turned and found Ea't standing right behind him.

Smiling.

With his hand out.

"Here!" t'Chk shoved the volume into the Split's hand. 'I hope you choke on it,' he thought but did not say out loud.

The Split opened the book and began flipping through its pages while simultaneously managing to block t'Chk's exit from between the rows of shelving. Ramsey was just starting to consider climbing over the shelves to get past the big, crazy Split when Ea't grunted with satisfaction, flipped most of the way to the back of the book and then traced the text down the page. A moment later the Split bared his teeth in a terrible smile. Then he snapped the volume closed, thumped his chest with his fist in a single curt salute... and then crossed the compartment directly toward t'Chk's escape pod.

As he realized what the Split was about to do Arthur Ramsey lunged forward while S'jar t'Chk screamed, "NO!" They both watched in horror as Ea't plopped himself down in the pod's only seat and fingered the big red button with the most obscene gesture he knew. An instant later both the safety restraints and the exit hatch slammed into place. For just an instant Ea't looked at him through several layers of HyperGlass and bared his teeth in a horrible expression of triumph. An instant later Arthur Ramsey shuddered at the whoosh and hiss of the pod being launched into space. Then they were alone, staring out into the void. In that instant it occurred to both of him that he didn't have a way out. Ramsey didn't know it, but his mouth was open and his lips were in the shape of a near perfect 'O'.

Just then he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. S'jar t'Chk snarled and turned around. Together they saw a shadow in the corridor. It was almost completely silent and moving directly toward them with a smooth, steady gait. A moment later the shadow stepped into the star light and S'jar t'Chk saw Drake staring at him with eyes as bright and cold as a clear winter sky. There was a sudden flare of light, like a three foot ember springing forth from the boy's thumb, and a noise, 'Ssingg!' that made all the hairs on his arms and neck stand up and then move in response to the glowing thing in the boy's hand. The ember faded away as fast as it appeared. In its place was three feet of edged steel.


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Last edited by Scion Drakhar on Mon, 19. Jun 17, 10:10; edited 20 times in total
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Triaxx2





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PostPosted: Sat, 17. Jun 17, 01:21    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Foosh The sound of compressed gasses igniting to eject the escape pod, a dozen explosive bolts snapped in a single instant. Then expanding gasses in a piston shove the pod up from the base, disconnecting the door from the ship and shoving it up into the guiding rollers. Hiss The sound of the thrusters igniting as the piston stops and the mechanical ignition switch at the bottom is released.

Then silence, as the pod is spat into space, accelerating under it's own power, in first a pre-programmed direction, namely away from the launching ship. The big thruster beneath ignites, driving the occupant down as it pushes them away, to the minimum safe distance to not be consumed by the detonating reactors. It burns out shortly after, leaving the occupant with a little control. Maneuvering thrusters only, with only a few hours of fuel if managed carefully.

But S'jar t'Chk went all out. Past those first five or ten seconds of acceleration, his pod is a little bigger, a little finer, and better equipped than the standard Pray Can. Pray it launches properly. Pray it doesn't rupture. Pray you're rescued. But that's not good enough for a mighty clan leader. No, indeed Ea't smiles to himself, nestled in Rich Corinthian Leather seating, fiddling with knobs controlling the flight pattern and destination controls. It's no Barracuda, but it's enough he can fly it where he wants. And it's got fuel to burn. He could cross Senator's Badlands if he wanted. Instead he plots his course through the midst of the fracas, headed home.

There's no puny SOS beacon on this pod, barely reaching standard communication range. Instead the pod is capable of directed or wide spread broadcasts. Ea't sets it to transmit in the clear, and pages through the book in his hands again. "From my mother's sleep I fell into the State."

---

The signal reaches the command ship, the word's echoing through the command chamber. H'nt knows that voice immediately. He squints at the screen, see's what he's looking for and hangs his head for a moment. Lu bursts into a coughing fit from laughter.

---

"And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze."

Ch't grins, watching his monitors. Only his brother would do such a thing.

---

"Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,"

C'lt F'rty-f'v laughed over her paper work. She tapped the record button. Her sister-in-law would want to hear this.

---

"I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters."

Chuckles cascaded through the command decks of the Deceptor and Osan'Gar the battle raged but so did the laughter.

---

"When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose."

F'ght fr'm R'gn waved her second to take the conn for a moment, while she wiped the tears from her eyes. All those years and nothing but he still remembered her favorite poetry. She turned back to the battle, smiling. "Fighters, save sentimental fool. Watch flanks."


****

That's Randall Jarrell's Death of a Ball Turret Gunner for anyone interested. And yes, Ea't and F'ght are weird.


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Nathancros





Joined: 30 Nov 2010

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PostPosted: Sat, 17. Jun 17, 20:47    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Of COURSE Ea't would be after something so bloody trivial!

Not sure why im surprised about this.
But i am
And it was AMUSING.

I cant wait to see how Drake returns S'jars... Hospitality..


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Zaitsev





Joined: 02 Dec 2008
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PostPosted: Sat, 17. Jun 17, 22:30    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

Very Happy Very Happy Very Happy

*jumps around like an idiot*

Ahem ... I mean ... That was awesome! Can't wait to see what Drake will do to S'jar. I imagine it will be somewhat painful, though.

*pull out another cookie jar and sit down to wait for the next chapter*


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Tohron





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PostPosted: Sun, 18. Jun 17, 17:08    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Great new chapter!

Seems like a good time to split the missile frigates - a turbo-boosting Cobra can go pretty fast, and Flails kill TPs and TMs pretty quickly too. Hope to see more in-game action once this threat is dealt with.

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Neil Clayton



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PostPosted: Mon, 19. Jun 17, 01:15    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Just a simple thankyou from a lurker, and if real life gives you time please continue Smile

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Triaxx2





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PostPosted: Mon, 19. Jun 17, 01:40    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Ch't F'rst: Split Say, LUDICROUS SPEED!


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Zaitsev





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PostPosted: Mon, 19. Jun 17, 18:19    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Triaxx2 wrote:
Ch't F'rst: Split Say, LUDICROUS SPEED!


Aaand now I'm gonna spend the rest of the day with Spaceballs quotes bouncing around in my head ...


"Who made that man a gunner?"
"I did, sir. He's my cousin."


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BlackArchon





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PostPosted: Sun, 25. Jun 17, 19:24    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Yay, another awesome chapter! Smile

Split say: Need more!!!


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