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Betrayal is a Double-Edged Sword - TC 3.2 DiD
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nebus





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PostPosted: Wed, 27. Nov 13, 12:18    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

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Song Of Obsidian



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PostPosted: Wed, 22. Jan 14, 03:09    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

'Tis the season for the return of writers to the X-universe, apparently.

This one feels rough, but I'm going to cleave my own OCD in twain and just post it so I can move on. Yeah, I read everyone else's threads too.


Chapter 109


The panel clicked back into place, and I crouched, moving my head left and right, up and down, until I was satisfied that the vid recorder was completely invisible on the other side of the one-way transparent piece of plasteel. Then I left the room, headed for the Zeus' hangar deck.

The day just past had been a busy one, for all of us. Satellites were deployed along the Pirate Highway, and the target ship had been located again less than an hour previous. A plan of battle had been drawn up, contingencies made, ships prepared.

But not all of the day's activities had been pleasant or mundane.

I stared at the door to the ship's medical bay as I passed, my heart a leaden weight. Mak Yatar wouldn't be joining us for the operation to come; he had been hit by one of the experimental and supposedly non-lethal guns and had yet to wake. His vitals were still strong, but I was worried about brain damage. There was little we could do for him without an actual medical staff, and that sense of powerlessness rankled and cast a pall over my mood.

His absence left me with twenty-seven warriors available for the operation, since we hadn't had a chance to evaluate those I recovered at the pirate base. Or rather, twenty-six, accounting for a decision I had made after the accident. Six for the Heavy Nemesis, and twenty on standby in case we found an advantageous opportunity. It would be foolish not to be ready, but I didn't really feel inclined to risk it today. Perhaps it was the specter of Mak's injury hanging over my conscience, but I just wanted to succeed. That and nothing more.

The hangar opened up before me, and all was still and silent. The crates that had served as targets the day before were scattered about with commandos sitting or leaning on them. Otherwise the space had nothing in common with the last scene I remembered. Everything that was intended for the mission to come had been stored away, and all but one of my people were kitted out and ready for battle; Yana Selek, a man I was less familiar with than some of the others, had volunteered to stay behind with Mak. They waited only for me.

I scanned the lot of them and paused a short distance away. There were some missing. Just as I was about to ask, however, gazes shifted past me. I started to turn, but my face was intercepted unexpectedly. I felt something soft and warm press to my skin just below and behind my eye, then recognized Nyota's face as she withdrew and skipped past me.

A few others walked by as well. Frenk Nedley caught my eye and started to smile, then looked away. Bemused, I spun around to stare at Nyota's back as she walked behind the gathered warriors, blocking my view. That kiss was the first open display of affection either of us had shown the other. I spared a quick glance around. Most of my veterans either appeared amused or were studiously showing no expression at all. The former Marines were a more mixed lot. Brent Jorwan, unsurprisingly, looked disgusted, but others either seemed confused or had picked up on the amusement of the others. Or both. The confusion was understandable; they had come to us from an organization that had regulations against relationships of this sort.

I had no idea what to make of this. This was something I hadn't quite thought through.

"Aron," I said curtly, and everyone came to attention, though many grins remained.

"We're ready, Commander."

I nodded slowly. "Yana, you know how to read the ship scanners?"

"Aye, Commander. We went over 'em, me 'n Brent."

I smiled appreciatively at the former Marine, though I couldn't say how much he appreciated the gesture. I needed to find a niche for him. That bitterness couldn't stand. "Then all is set. I'll transport Marissa's squad to the Minotaur. The rest of you will go to the Cerberus until the boarding operation is underway. Any questions?"

Kile waved to get my attention. "Think the Heirs will ever have a crest, Commander?"

The question set me back a bit. A crest? It made sense, but this wasn't the sort of thing my people would likely think of. The idea probably started with the Marines. Military organizations usually had some sort of emblem or insignia to identify with. But even that wasn't the most interesting thing about the question. No, it was the expectant way he and several others were looking at me that had me intrigued. "I hadn't thought about it. Do you have something in mind?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe something with a really deep red, since you wear the color so well."

That made no sense at all. I was wearing greys. Of course, I looked down to make sure and heard snickering. Knowing that I was the butt of some joke was infuriatingly annoying. I started to scowl at Kile, but someone else drew my eye. Nyota was leaning over his shoulder, and her grinning lips were coated in rich, glossy red.

I blinked, then touched my cheek and looked at my fingers. And sighed.

-------------------------------------

Split Fire was clear. Olmancketslat's Treaty had a Paranid freighter. Not a concern. A few freighters that might consider me hostile were wandering through Brennan's Triumph, but no serious threats. In Hatikvah's Faith, a Split battle group led by a Dragon traveled toward the north gate. Not a concern. Nopileos' Memorial was a battleground, a Xenon P trading blows with a Boron Heavy Hydra. The Boron had a fighter escort though, so they should clean up before long. That left Danna's Chance.

Our target was flying on a vector for the east gate to Nopileos', unescorted. I noted that its speed was at the ship design's maximum level, just 5.5 m/s slower than Sprite, but couldn't recall if that had been the case the last time I scouted it out.

There were a couple other Paranid ships in transit through the sector: a Demeter Hauler, which didn't concern me, and a Helios military transport, which did. The satellite reading showed three fighters aboard, and a Pericles was already flying around it in a defensive pattern. Both of those ships were near the east gate but heading toward the north. A few other ships were about, Boron transports, but my only worry about them was in making sure they didn't get hit by stray weapons fire.

The Helios wasn't really a threat unless it had high-end fighters aboard, but I was wary of a trap, especially since I would be flying solo for the first part of the operation. I didn't want to bring the boarding operation into Nopileos' though. There was the risk of Xenon intervention, and I would have to wait until it got far enough from the gate to bring in my other ships. That was assuming I could get it in a favorable position at all, given our slim speed differences. And since I needed everyone on the Heavy Nemesis alive, I couldn't risk damaging it. I would have to put myself at risk to keep those shields down, and to fry its turreted weapons and any critical components it might have, such as a jumpdrive or sentry lasers. And during this entire time I had to keep an eye out for Argon or Paranid interference.

My decision made, I initiated the jump into Danna's Chance. "Don't fall asleep over there."

"I'll be ready for the word," Nyota replied from the helm of the Minotaur just before a swirling tunnel appeared before me.

The Eclipse leapt into the sector and I swung around to the right, heading northwest. The Helios was only at half speed, three kilometers away. I targeted the Nemesis and checked the range. Nine kilometers. It might be tight, but I should have enough time.

I started the engagement with a stream of high energy plasma, and watched the lines of green energy strike home on the military transport's shields. The ship had double my shielding so the damage was minimal, but the ship started to turn around and its fighters, which were nothing more than another Pericles and two Pegasus scouts, launched.

About then my shields started sparking above me. I didn't know where this attack was coming from so I initiated a jump back to the gate and looked up. A couple fighter drones were above me, Mark II's, if the PAC fire pouring onto me was any indication. I strafed right and put my sluggish fighter into a dive, for all the good that would do.

The jump back into the sector didn't change much. I was still in range of the drones, but I switched to plasma burst generators and turned toward the cloud racing my way. Gouts of flame rushed out to intercept the fast but fragile drones, and moments later I was in the clear. Just not for long.

I saw the freighter that must have dumped them and scowled. I should have expected that, but I had higher priorities now. The fighters were closing and my shields were already in the red, so I switched back to HEPTs to try to catch them at a distance. The first scout exploded under the barrage, but I missed the second. It zipped past me, peppering my shields with impulse ray emitters. I decided to ignore that and put more plasma in the path of the first interceptor. The other Pegasus crossed in front of me again, only to detonate under the fire of my turrets. My target Pericles flared and disintegrated a moment later, and the second one turned back the way it came.

The Helios was bearing down on me, but I elected to hit the freighter first. Its shields lasted a lot longer than I expected; the Demeter Hauler apparently had full shielding and I only had a couple longer range weapons installed. Still, it was only a matter of time.

But just when I started to turn away, the Paranid pilot left me a parting gift: another cluster of fighter drones.

The freighter exploded as I swerved back, flames pouring from the front of my fighter. I reacted fast enough that most of the drones didn't have time to activate. I took a few hits as I flew through the debris cloud, but none of the drones survived.

Streaks of light blue impacted my shields, then passed above as I turned toward my new offender. It was the Helios. "One damned thing after another," I muttered as the targeting brackets centered on the transport. I started to take hull damage during the exchange, but my flamethrowers won out in the end...and just in time to see the telltale golden cylindrical rounds from ion shard railguns reachching out for me. My actual target had entered the fray.

I put Sprite into a slow downward corkscrew and started another jump sequence, this time to the north gate. I wasn't worried about evading ion shards, but while the drive counted down I scanned the enemy ship. Sentry lasers...those would have to go. All of its turrets were fully armed as well, which meant significant risk to my boarding pods.

This would not be a fun fight.

Upon re-entry to the sector I climbed above the median plane and put some distance between myself and the gate. The Heavy Nemesis was too fast in this small sector.

Stripping the shields off the target wasn't difficult. Keeping under and slightly ahead of it to limit my exposure to its turrets and main battery was more challenging. It would have gone faster if I still had pulsed beam emitters on my fighter, but I had too many short-range weapons installed already. I was really too close for the flamethrowers, so I had to use HEPTs. Tedious affair, but as we circled each other my shields were holding around sixty percent consistently while the corvette's continued to lose strength.

"Elena's Pride sighted in Split Fire."

I was glad Nyota was paying attention, because I hadn't been. After a quick mental calculation, I figured we had between ten and twelve minutes, depending on where the Colossus was in Split Fire and assuming it flew at max speed through Brennan's Triumph. Which it would, if the Argon knew we were here.

"Acknowledged. Try to estimate its speed. Target's shields are low. Be ready to jump at a moment's notice."

I didn't hear what she said in reply, because I had higher priorities. Nyota's helpful announcement reminded me of the dangers of tunnel vision. I took stock of my present situation. To start with, three kilometers from the north gate put the target in the worst possible position for our circumstances and objective. And now I had a time limit. I pulled up map of Split Fire and saw the carrier battle group immediately. It was still near the gate to Elena's Fortune, and I saw a new signature move in. A Cerberus, likely an escort. Nyota must have been keeping a close eye on the scanners, to have caught it so quickly.

The Colossus wasn't moving at speed yet, so I moved my estimate up to twenty minutes. That still wasn't very long, not when I needed to hit the Heavy Nemesis with ion disruptors. And while some of the Boron were giving us a wide berth, not all were, so I needed to lead the target away from the shipping lane so the disruptors didn't make me a few extra enemies.

I waited until we were nearly facing the south gate, then accelerated and went right past the corvette's nose. It didn't fire its main battery fast enough to hit me, and my rear turret continued to wear down its shields while I opened up a small gap between us.

Aler-

The computerized voice cut off as a large explosion registered on the target camera. I deactivated the rear turret as soon as I saw it; whoever was flying back there was completely lacking in common sense. The corvette's shielding was down to four percent, the consequence of a missile detonating as soon as it cleared the launch tube. Good thing it hadn't been a bigger missile.

The front of the Heavy Nemesis lit up, bright yellow, and I was forced to start evasive maneuvers to dodge ion shards. The asteroids ahead would normally have been my best friends, but I couldn't risk my foe colliding with one of them. So I put my fighter into a dive.

Or started to. Then I thought better of it and reversed directions, bringing the Eclipse's nose up until I flipped over, and hit the Nemesis with its first ion strike.

What was left of its shields evaporated and the larger ship slowed down even further. As usual, my own strafing started to grow more sluggish while I sustained fire on the target, but the maneuver worked. Both left and right side turrets started to fire on me, but one of the weapons on the left side, a fragmentation bomb launcher, ceased almost immediately. I started a strafing roll toward that side, checked the position of the Colossus again, and pulled Nyota back up on the comms. "We have a new plan."

"Go ahead." Sir, she should have said. Amazing the things one grows accustomed to.

"Jump in at the south gate in two minutes and come straight for me. When I tell you to, launch a flail barrage at me. Count to ten and launch a second one."

I glanced at the screen and saw the anticipated puzzled expression on her face, but she nodded. "Yes, sir."

Surprise does amazing things, too.

-------------------------------------

Those two eternal minutes dragged on and on, but I was rewarded for my lifetimes of patience when the sentry lasers vanished from the equipment list of the target. Somewhere in the process both rear turret weapons and one from the right side were disabled as well. I kept up the ion storm; they had to know I was trying to capture them now.

I checked our positioning, and took a deep, steadying breath. "Launch the first barrage."

"There's an asteroid between us."

I smiled faintly, though I wasn't in the mood to be questioned right then. "Trust me."

Alert. Missile launch detected. Why did the immediacy of that announcement make me think she was angry with me?

I broke off from my attack and flew almost straight down. I wasn't entirely comfortable with this new plan, but the time limit made my usual profoundly patient approach impossible.

Alert. Missile launch detected.

I was committed.

My attacker, however, was not. The Heavy Nemesis slowed down and didn't pursue. Nor had I expected it to. They had to have seen the Minotaur on their scanners, and with my intentions so obvious, they had no reason to expose themselves to the missile frigate. So I had to give them a reason.

Sprite's missile warning system started chirping at me, and I ignored it. "Mark the Nemesis as friendly, for now."

"Yes, sir," Nyota said quietly.

I cleared the asteroid and saw the spiraling formation of missiles, then turned away from them and initiated a jump to the south gate. The warning sounds became louder and more insistent, but still I ignored them. And continued to ignore them until...

The fighter shook violently through several consecutive explosions. Moments later I entered a wormhole and reappeared in the sector at the south gate. The second group of missiles swerved around to chase me, and I set a course toward the northwest at half speed. Checked range to target, range to the Minotaur, location of Elena's Pride. And waited.

The Nemesis peeked out from under the asteroid, as I hoped. "Launch three more flails at me, with a few seconds between each."

"Sir, are you out of your mind?" Maybe she wasn't angry, but she was certainly frustrated.

"No, I'm in a hurry. Don't worry. I'll survive this. But turn around to face me and get ready to launch boarding pods at the rear of that corvette."

Nyota might have understood my intent then, but I couldn't be certain because she scowled at me and closed the channel.

Alert. Missile launch detected.

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Scion Drakhar



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PostPosted: Fri, 24. Jan 14, 17:13    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

I'm actually embarrassed to admit this but I just read chapter one and loved it. The fact that I just now read it is the embarrassing bit, not the loving it. You have excellent narrative skills.

Okay... nuff said. I shall continue reading. Very Happy


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Song Of Obsidian



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PostPosted: Sat, 25. Jan 14, 04:23    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

There might only be one Scion, but I've enjoyed this story and hope you enjoy the rest of it too.


Chapter 109(continued)


Improvisation, I thought as I stared at the blank monitor, is not for the faint of heart.

I didn't have time to sooth Nyota's frayed nerves, or whatever else was actually bothering her. I had to sell this Minotaur as an enemy charade, so I opened a comm channel to the Nemesis. "In the mood to talk?"

The Paranid who appeared where Nyota's face had just been grinned a hard, mirthless grin. "In mood to kill."

"This day you will fail," I said with a nonchalant shrug, while at the same time rotating the Eclipse's nose and spraying flames in the paths of one of the flail barrages I had told Nyota to fire at me. None of them hit me. "But no one needs to die if you'll just tell me who hired you to kill me."

"I tell you nothing."

I sighed, but not out of any real disappointment. The Paranid's grin started to fade, then bloomed again through sheer force of will. But the uncertainty was there. "A shame, Krimanckelttak, a shame. If you have nothing to offer, I may as well just destroy you. Goodbye."

I closed the channel. I had given him just enough to know that he had been betrayed, and not by his client. Convincing him that the Minotaur was on his side hadn't fit into the conversation, but I could see on the sensors that the Nemesis was again at full speed, heading toward me. Perfect.

I put myself on a collision course with him, deviating only long enough to destroy the missile barrages, and somewhat hesitantly called Nyota again. "Need you to get as close to us as possible. I'll let you know when to launch the boarding pods."

She nodded but didn't reply. Other than to launch another barrage at me. Must be reading my mind. Or just angry.

The flails arrived before the Nemesis, and I dispatched them as cleanly as all the others. One final check of Brennan's Triumph showed the Colossus perhaps twenty kilometers from the south gate. Not much time left.

This dogfight began just as the previous one had. I evaded ion shards, but this time poured some fire over the corvette and watched with alarm as the shields dropped a lot faster than I anticipated. I must have knocked out some of the shield generators with ion disruptors and failed to notice. I didn't want him to realize I was setting him up again, so using the disruptors again was out. Circling too, as much to avoid getting the boarding pods shot down as anything else. So when the Nemesis started to turn, I kept going, toward the Minotaur. And another round of flails.

Her timing couldn't have been better. It gave me the perfect excuse to move the battle closer to her. I had to dodge ion shards, but after I destroyed the missiles I switched to HEPTs and turned around for what I hoped would be the final pass of this fight.

The longer range of the HEPT gave me enough time to finish the target's shields. On an impulse I swerved off to the right, the rest of my weapons fire 'missing' the Nemesis and leaving it unscathed. The Minotaur was just three kilometers out now; it was time. "Launch the boarding pods," I said with more calm than I felt as I toggled off all but a single high energy plasma thrower. We only had one chance at this, and I didn't consider any of the people in those pods to be expendable.

As soon as I said the words, I flipped around and began the tedious task of managing the corvette's shield level. The pair of boarding pods impacted less than seven seconds after launch, and I heard Marissa announce, very matter-of-factly, that cutting had commenced.

I listened to the boarding op but didn't receive the status reports I was accustomed to. Perhaps Marissa felt the need to concentrate more on the operation with the experimental weapons and the fact that all those Paranid were still breathing. It wreaked havoc on my nerves, even more so when Nyota cut in quietly.

"Sir, to the northeast." I looked, and saw the Elena's Pride battle group. It appeared to have been heading for the east gate, but now the carrier was turning our way. "Do you want to take it?"

I shook my head. "No. They're not our enemy." Nyota's expression was thoughtful, and I was tempted to close the channel, save for the fact that we would need to communicate for our departure. And thinking of that reminded me to jump the Magnetar in. Our new prisoner transport would need a new jumpdrive.

"Computer core reached."

I strained to listen, but didn't hear any weapons fire. I almost asked if they had taken any casualties, but decided not to make a nuisance of myself until their job was done.

Our four ships jumped out of the sector less than a minute later, with the Argon battle group only eighteen kilometers away.

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Sabrina Bergin





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PostPosted: Sat, 25. Jan 14, 19:55    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Song:
No you are not scion but you write a damn good story, so don't knock yourself.
Looking forward to the next update.

PS: Like you I read every thing posted on this forum its always nice to see talent emerging or a rare glimpse of genius appear.

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Song Of Obsidian



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PostPosted: Sun, 26. Jan 14, 17:55    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

I've been sick, so I'm allowed to have a dismal outlook on everything for a couple more days Razz But thanks.


Chapter 110


The bridge of the Heavy Nemesis was...spacious. For a heavy corvette, anyway. The only explanation for that, and for the limited cargo space on a vessel of similar size to any other heavy corvette, was the size of the Paranid themselves. Those big bastards required a lot of room.

Aron led a second squad, made up of former Marines, from the bridge to assist in securing the disabled Paranid while I poked around looking for any valuable intelligence. I didn't expect much. Most ship computers have backups and failsafes and standard protections against physical damage, but prolonged exposure to electricity from, say, an ion disruptor, can overwhelm all of them, especially if the ship is maneuvering. All it takes is a wire touching something it normally would not, or dust particles catching fire, or a minor oversight on an inspection, and those protections can be made useless.

Or, as I found on the bridge, a bulky Paranid colliding with the armored shielding panel concealing a computer core at some unknown velocity. At least the blood stain was small. I needed them all alive, for now.

I tried to remove the panel, but without tools I didn't get anywhere. It was simply stuck. It was unlikely anything useful would be on it anyway, so I wasn't worried. If this were a group of actual spies, solid information could be hidden anywhere. But they were not spies, and better still, they were Paranid. Arrogance and complacency go hand-in-hand, and make tasks for people like me so easy that the Paranid are almost a favored foe. Except for the fact that they can usually crush our skulls in one hand.

I left the bridge and began to wander in what should at least be the right direction. Many ships such as this would have the captain's quarters near the bridge, but again, these were Paranid. It didn't matter what the captains wanted, really. The engineers who designed the ships felt that a captain should be near the ship's heart. The center. The third eye, as it were. That was what made them special, supposedly.

Maybe I should offer to dig out the captain's third eye to convince him to talk. Or maybe not.

I heard the hum of the ship's core and power source before I saw any of my people. Kile winked and waved with a single sharp flick of his hand, and I nodded but kept going. Everyone survived, I had already learned, and now they were trussing up the prisoners to be transported over to our Titan by Nyota. All the other commandos were already on the destroyer, including the three Split I had promised time off. This was too important.

A woman stood in an open doorway over a pair of large booted feet with her back to me as I approached the core, and I heard a more masculine voice talking from within. Or grumbling, more like. "While we don't want him using his hands, we don't want him to LOSE them either. You want to get hit with that arm like a club if he gets free? Don't cut off his circulation, soldier." Marissa glanced over at me and nodded, then stepped in and to the side to let me through.

The room wasn't very big, by Paranid standards. A metal desk with no chair. A personal lavatory that probably claimed skin every time he squeezed into it. No luxurious bed, though Nyota and I could still sleep on it comfortably together. I started to smirk to myself at that thought, but pushed the thought aside and looked down at the Paranid himself, and Niklas Gusta, who was trying to bind him effectively.

I looked at Marissa, and saw the object of my greatest concern behind her. The entire corner of the room was dominated by a computer mainframe. Unprotected. I frowned, then leaned out and looked at the wall to either side of the door. On the left there was a simple...no. Twenty-seven buttons was not very simple, though it was predictable. They equated mathematics with religion somehow, and three times three times three made a lot of sense to the three-eyes. "How did you get in?"

"We had to chase him down," Marissa said without looking at me. "Val got a lucky shot on him before he could seal himself in. Like I'm going to do to Niklas if he doesn't finish in the next sixty seconds."

Niklas started to grumble again, then flinched when Marissa took a step forward. "I'll wait outside," I said, amused. The computer wasn't going anywhere.

-------------------------------------

The Paranid might be good with math, but coding requires more than math. It requires logic, and logic was anathema to these zealots.

An independent computer with restricted access generally has certain requirements to keep it indepedent and secure. Security is the more difficult of the two since anything can be bypassed given time and will. Computers must be dependent upon some things, however. If Krimanckelttak had been wiser, or less arrogant, he should have recognized the biggest failing in his computer's installation and insisted it be fixed. Or done it himself. But since he hadn't, the computer had remained connected to the ship's power source instead of having a shielded one of its own. And now it was completely fried and useless to me. My chest started to feel...denser, and I resisted the urge to shoot the damned thing a few times. There was still work to do.

Marissa, Niklas, and the unconscious Paranid were gone. Before they were transported I asked how long he might be out, since Marissa knew which of the weapons Val had been using. She gave an estimate of three hours but admitted she wasn't certain.

I took over the cabin in their absence, and it only took a few minutes for me to declare the computer a wasted lump of circuitry. I had to search the rest of the room, just in case. Under the mattress...nothing. A shipboard comm panel was imbedded into the wall near the head of the bed. He would have crushed anything every time he laid down anyway. I refuse to name the smell that came out of the lavatory. The two cabinets above the bed held his clothes, a couple small - by Paranid standards - laser pistols, a book with a downward-pointing triangle on it, with an eye on each point, and a flask and bottle of space fuel. "Naughty Krim," I murmured, but left the bottle where it was. No one wanted to drink after him, I was sure.

That left the desk, with a safe beneath it. I tugged on the safe's handle, then knelt in front of it to look it over. I ran my hands over the front, then laid down under the desk and explored the wall and the side of the safe while somehow suppressing my gag reflex. I don't think he wore his boots here.

There was no access mechanism that I could discern. It was probably voice- and maybe passcode-triggered, which meant there would also be a secondary access method if someone managed to get the initial door open. And while I doubted this Paranid's competence, it was better to assume the second had to be activated within a certain timeframe after the first or something bad would happen, destroying either me or the contents of the safe. I didn't consider myself expendable, so that left me with precisely nothing.

Except a few prisoners and some unspent anger.

I opened a channel to Nyota on my commlink. "Is everyone clear?"

Her face didn't come up, nor did she answer. I asked again and was again greeted with silence. Then I heard bootsteps. Two pairs, one with long strides, the other lighter and more...hurried. I waited.

Marissa looked in, nodded to me, then turned around and walked away. Nyota replaced her and stood in the doorway, staring at me like a frightened doe who happens to want to rip the legs off a raptor. Her fingers waggled at her sides as we considered each other, until she seemed to notice and folded her arms with a little huff. I saw anger and hurt and accusation and fear. What did she see?

Probably nothing at all.

"Something to say?" I asked gently.

"You're supposed to include us in all your plans. You promised."

Us hell. I sighed quietly and leaned back against the wall. If she wanted to beat me up over a plan gone to shit, I wasn't going to. But at the same time, I couldn't just give Nyota the standard 'trust me or don't' speech. She deserved at least slightly better than that from me. "I made mistakes early in the fight, and when you spotted the Pride I had to adapt. There wasn't time for anything better because I didn't know if the Argon knew we were there already. I assumed they did, and did what I thought would lure this ship out. And I trusted you to do your part." I narrowed my eyes slightly, and let out a slow, silent breath to try and relax a little. I wasn't the only one who had made mistakes, but my anger over a damned sizzling computer and locked safe did not need to be directed at Nyota. "Which you did. Eventually. But if any of the Marines ever heard you questioning me like that in combat, we'd have a serious problem. Our relationship doesn't give you the right to refuse an order from me."

She flinched and lowered her head, upper body leaning away. I really hadn't wanted to say it, but it needed to be said. And the unpleasantness wasn't over. At the same time, my anger continued to drain from me, though more slowly than hers had. She was just not built, emotionally, to sustain it. I was, just not with her, it seemed.

For some reason that made me smile, though it was a sad smile, with her across the room and so obviously vulnerable. I closed the distance as quietly as I could. Her head came up a little when she saw my feet, and I could tell she was watching me. Or at least some part of me. I placed my hands on her elbows and felt her tense slightly, but only for a few heartbeats. "It didn't even put you or the people on your ship in any danger, Nyota. But your indecision did. We can't have that any more, ok? You have to choose to trust me." Something sharp hit me in the chest when I spoke those words. The fact that her trust wasn't implicit hurt. "Or don't."

She didn't move, so neither did I. I have always liked to think that I understand people well. It is part of my job. Our relationship complicated things, and to be fair we still had a lot to learn about each other. More than not, really. But I understood her...

Nyota looked up at me and I smiled reassuringly. She appeared calm, if somewhat aloof. "Fine," she said. "But you owe me dinner."

...or not.

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Song Of Obsidian



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PostPosted: Tue, 25. Aug 15, 14:43    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

I'm going to blame shaun and Morgon for this. I've been tempted back into the dark, starry non-skies of the X universe again, so I may as well write about it too. Small post to help me get my bearings again...actual action coming soon-ish.


Interlude - Seeking Equilibrium


We transported to the bridge of the Titan together, though Nyota chose not to state her business there and I chose not to ask. I wanted to see the prisoners, for my part.

I started for the door and Nyota stepped in front of me, facing away. After a little bump she glanced back and smiled shyly, murmuring an apology that I dismissed with a gentle guiding hand on the middle of her back. Forward.

But there was resistance. She held her ground for a few moments and I found myself grinning as I stepped in, gradually adding force. Gradually, because I wasn't going to let her make me fall. Her back arched away from my hand, a silent protest...and a trap that I only recognized when her head fell back just enough for me to get a breath of air scented by her hair. It was a sweet scent, floral, and it lingered while she allowed herself to be propelled forward, one grudging step after another.

A small gap opened between us as we approached the exit to the bridge. I felt a sudden and overwhelming sense of absence, an absence that only lasted until I grabbed Nyota's arm, spun her around and pulled her in for a kiss. Her ensuing groan filled that void and giving me an odd sensation under my throat that made my chest feel...swollen, as if I'd been holding my breathing for too long. And I knew that the prisoners would be enjoying their naps without my gawking for a while.

-------------------------------------

"Do you want me to go with you?"

The question brought me around, twisting to glance at Nyota from my position at the foot of the bed, where I was pulling on a boot. She was still under the covers of the first bed we had found...and we only waited that long because it was the first door that actually had a lock on it.

Apparently we still possess some form of modesty.

"If any of them are awake, I'll need to TRY to look stern and unyielding and the like. Your presence would probably just have me grinning at them," I said with a grin that proved my point and made an explanation about the nature of the expression unnecessary.

"Your grin can be scary," she said with a little pout, and pulled the sheets just a little tighter over her chest. I wondered if she actually intended to appear intimidated. Not that I believed it in either case.

"Only because it's so rare."

She giggled at me, a sound that almost made me shiver. Damned woman. "Mhm. But do you need me to point out their captain?"

I shook my head. "No, no. I talked to him during the batt-" I stopped and looked up to find her regarding me calmly. "How do you know which one is the captain?"

"He hailed me when you jumped back to the south gate." Her brow furrowed, quite endearingly. "I thought that was part of your plan."

Silence fell for a few moments, as I adjusted to this new perspective on her reactions during and after the op. I hadn't expected Krimanckelttak to contact her; she must have been thoroughly unsettled. So was I, however long after the fact. Because, staring at Nyota and seeing her confusion, with a hint of anger and vulnerability returning, I simply didn't know what to say if I wanted to comfort her. And I did.

I laid a hand briefly on her ankle, hoping that my eyes could convey all that my voice apparently could not. "What did he say?" I asked softly.

"He asked if the admiral sent me."

And silence fell once more, as I wondered just how many surprises I could handle in a single conversation. Admiral? Now now, how was I going to fit that into my thinking? "What did you tell him?"

She shrugged her bare shoulders, but there was some anger in her eyes. "I just gave him a disgusted look and told him to do his job. Then closed the channel."

"Just about perfect," I said with a relieved chuckle, and put my elbows on my knees. "Now to figure out who the admiral is." My first thought, of course, was Admiral Keswen, but that was the only Argon admiral I knew. Rushing to conclusions could be dangerous, especially in the interrogation.

It really told me nothing, other than the fact that guessing at answers would give me a headache.

But there had to be a connection between the Inquisitors and the Argon military. It was the only explanation for that reaction to an Argon warship 'helping' them. And that scout pilot had said they were hired. That implied it was something outside the Paranid hierarchy. In a priesthood, they don't get 'hired'. They receive divine commands.

I realized that I didn't know enough about the Argon military to make any educated guesses. Some research was in order before I talked to this Krimanckelttak.

Though I supposed I could just wing it. Improvised. Worked out great the first time, I thought wryly, then glanced at Nyota, who had yet to move from beneath the covers that were all she presently wore. Well. Better in the end than the intermediate.

Then again, going armed with information could also be a hindrance. I might lock in on my thoughts on certain individuals. Or worse, I might give Krim time to think, if the dossier hunt took too long. Not to mention the fact that the Heirs had been out of sight too long already; we needed to return to the Argon public's eye in a positive light. And exposing an admiral who had chosen to collaborate with one of their worst enemies would certainly go a long way toward both those criteria.

By the time I came to a decision, I was fully dressed and checking my knives to make sure Nyota and I hadn't accidentally misplaced any. And Nyota was silent for the couple minutes it took to finish dressing and thinking and such. Reminded me of the patient, determined woman I had met just a few weeks prior.

Another thing I decided in those few precious minutes, was that giving Nyota any orders for the next day or so might not be wise. So I chose my next words carefully, eyes on hers the entire time.

"Would you mind getting dressed? I'd like to have you close by during the interrogations." One corner of my mouth quirked up, and I couldn't help glancing down at her covered form. "If you think you can behave."

She gave me a naughty little smile, though the anger lingered in her gaze.

"No promises."

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Sabrina Bergin





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PostPosted: Tue, 25. Aug 15, 15:30    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Song of obsidian wrote:

"I'm going to blame shaun and Morgon for this. I've been tempted back into the dark, non-starry skies of the X universe again, so I may as well write about it too."

Blame me all you want, I don't really care as long as you keep writing.

I thought the last post was excellent, it certainly added depth to the main character despite its brevity.

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PostPosted: Sat, 29. Aug 15, 17:00    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

I did say once before that I thought my own character was the least fleshed-out of the lot. Trying to fix that Razz

No real action yet. Next post, promise.


Chapter 111 - Prod and Pull


The reddish clouds of Great Reef had hidden our entrance into the sector quite well. The size of the sector helped. With no ships near the south gate, a turn to the southeast had put us, eventually, into an area of space no one would ever want to search. And with the speed of the Zeus, getting clear had taken a while.

The nebula that hid us seemed to have another effect as well. The portals to the outside that normally provided a perfectly clear view of the space outside the ship, now cast reflections of what remained inside.

I couldn't remember the last time I had actually looked at myself. Not that the reflection was a good one; I was transparent, after all. With the nebula behind, it almost looked like I had hair. I knew better. But just seeing myself in this way, so insubstantial and murky, I found myself wondering how the people I led saw me. A few weeks ago, I would have assumed they all saw me the same way. They had been trained that way. But then I recruited Hohindras. Nyota had...arrived. And Chianna. And the twelve Argon marines. How much of what they saw was actually me? Would I recognize myself if I could look through their eyes?

Something touched my shoulder and I spun my head around, one hand instinctively reaching toward my hip. I relaxed again immediately; it was a hand, with Nyota's face behind it. After the events of this day, I was surprised that she didn't appear smug from startling me. If anything, she looked concerned.

I glanced past her. Another person stood in the doorway to the room I had chosen to wait in. "He's strapped in," said Flot Rana, and I nodded an acknowledgement. Then I patted Nyota's hand without looking at her, and took one last look at the window. I hadn't seen Nyota in it, though I had known she was there. Now, however, I didn't see myself either.

-------------------------------------

Krimanckelttak, rank unknown, sat in a chair against the wall. His gaze was on me when I entered. Had he not been bound, with arms secured to his lap and legs secured to a bolted-down chair, I think I would have been killed on the spot. Then again, given the strength of the average Paranid, that might still be a possibility.

I closed the door and stayed clear of it, just in case my people needed to come in. The room was large enough that I would have a few heartbeats to react if Krim broke free. Long enough to bang on the wall, at least.

This was not overly comforting.

Krim chose not to speak, though he might have been silently snarling. Not appearing intimidated by the hatred in his three eyes was a challenge; not feeling intimidated was another matter entirely. "Would have been more comfortable speaking before the battle, I know. I did ask," I said with an insincerely apologetic shrug.

"Just kill me." His rumbling voice seemed to merge with the sounds of the ship. The sheer depth of his tone was impressive and matched his expression in a way I can't describe. Over the comms, it just hadn't had the same effect.

I gave him a curious look, with just a hint of amusement. "Why would I want to do that? I did go to a lot of trouble to keep you alive."

No answer. No shift in expression. Unsurprising; an angry Paranid is just dangerous. But negotiating with Paranid is easier than dealing with most other races. They can be remarkably similar to Teladi, in some regards. More straight-forward, perhaps, but that's the point. A Teladi will weigh a bargain to make sure he or she comes out on top. A Paranid will weigh it as well, but the currency is different. I wanted to know who hired him, so I needed to offer something that had more value than the contract. Pain would never work. Nor would mind games. He would simply refuse to talk. But as it happened, I had something that fit the bill perfectly. I hoped.

"You don't want to talk? That's alright. You're not going anywhere, so I'll talk for you." I didn't want to talk too long, however. Not with his muscles straining against his bonds.

"I know you were hired to kill me. You wouldn't be hired by another Paranid, would you? There frankly isn't a Paranid lower than you in rank who would want me dead, and anyone higher could find a way to command it. Not to mention your reaction to the Minotaur's actions. So I'm inclined to believe the contract came from an Argon. An influential Argon. But that's not important to you right now. Or shouldn't be. But I can tell you what should be." I actually smiled at him, and leaned back against the wall beside the door. Let him think I was comfortable. One thing I am good at, is pretending.

"I know your name. I knew where to find you. I knew you were hired, not ordered, to kill me. Where do you think that information came from?"

The surreptitious twisting of his arms ceased. I may not have much respect for Paranid in general, but their brains have enough lobes to be able to think about a lot of things simultaneously. Everything I had said should have fallen into place pretty quick.

He spoke again a few seconds later. "You offer a name for a name."

"No, alas." I shook my head sadly. "A name for a name would be fair, but then I would have to kill you. And, frankly, I need more. I need proof."

Krim's arms flexed again. Thankfully, his restraints held. "The contract for my freedom?"

"Oh, I'll be letting you go shortly. What happens after is your choice." And once he was set free, there was no guarantee he would come back. But, he knew there was a traitor in his organization somewhere now. He might try to find said traitor on his own once I cut him loose. But I knew he would fail. He believed this traitor to be dead, after all. "But if you provide me with the contract, I'll release your crew and tell you how to find the one who gave you up."

I had said it. No more assumptions. I told him plainly that there was a traitor. And, to a Paranid, selling out another Paranid to a non-Paranid is not just a betrayal of an individual. It is a betrayal of their entire religion. Before his entire body sagged in the chair from the relaxing of his muscles, before his head drooped, before he let out a growl that could have signalled any number of things, I knew I had him.

-------------------------------------

"This is a bad idea."

I shrugged at Nyota's assessment as we watched the shieldless Heavy Nemesis fly away from the bridge of the Zeus. Krim's crew was still on the Titan, in a completely different part of the universe, and I had chosen not to install a jump drive on the Paranid corvette. It would take some time for him to get anywhere, and by then, we would be gone.

"The risk is negligible. We've shown that we can take him down, and he won't be able to find us regardless. But more importantly, he has too much to gain from this arrangement."

Nyota's discomfort with said arrangement was understandable though. We were supposed to be fighting the Paranid, and here I had just let one go with a promise to release over a dozen more. I wasn't really happy about it either, but I had to take the long view. In this, Nyota's more emotional nature simply got in the way.

"But sir, what if he-"

"We have a wounded man," I said more quietly, without making any effort to hide the guilt I felt, "And Mak may not recover." It didn't matter that it hadn't happened in actual combat. Mak took the hit in preparation for the operation. I might have been responsible because I retrieved the weapon from Fui's lab without knowing its capabilities, but this started months ago, when my government betrayed me to the Paranid. And earlier than that, when the Paranid gave us some damned good reasons to infiltrate them. "That's not in our control. But I won't let him be the only casualty of this battle."

I don't even know how I sounded when I spoke the words. The thoughts and memories that sparked them brought up too much anger that, in spite of all that had happened since I fled that military base, was still quite fresh. I felt the words more than I heard them.

But however it sounded, what I said had a notable effect. Nyota chose not to express any more misgivings about my decision.

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Idleking





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PostPosted: Mon, 31. Aug 15, 17:58    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Chapter 111?
Woooooooooooooooo.... guess I'll have to re-read a lot to follow the plot again, I don't remember sh*t what happened in the previous 110 chapters Very Happy


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Song Of Obsidian



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PostPosted: Tue, 1. Sep 15, 19:42    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Good to see you peeking in again, Idleking.

I'm trying to bring up a lot of things to refresh anyone who might not want to read everything again(like I had to do). We'll see how successful I am at it.

Fair warning, this post is a long one.


Chapter 112 - Masters of Their Own Fates


Twelve men and women stood before me in the hangar, arrayed in a double line. All at attention, and none actually looking at me. They had picked a place straight ahead to stare at while they waited for me to share why I had called them together for the first time since they joined us.

Some of my original warriors were nearby. Eight of them, with another seven guarding our Paranid prisoners and Mak still in med bay. What I had to say was for them as well...part of it. But it would be more personal for the former Marines.

"You all chose to come here," I began in an even tone. I did not try to speak over the drone of the ship's engines; I wanted them to have to make themselves listen. "And I know it hasn't been what you expected. But I would hope the reasons you joined remain unchanged." One woman, Kriss Gusta, started to lean nearer to me, then stopped herself and straightened again. "I would like to assure you that the aim of this organization has remained unchanged. And now I want all of you to take a more active role in that."

None of them moved. But I did. Forward, just a few steps, to put myself in the very center of their formation. And I, too, chose a spot directly ahead to stare at. I had no idea what that panel's function was, though. Maybe something to do with the magnetic field surrounding the hangar's launch window. Hm.

"I mentioned this to some of you a few days ago, on the Cerberus. I will say it to you all now. I want all of you to be veterans before anyone else joins us." I heard a few gentle intakes of breath. Pride? Eagerness? Hm. "To that end, I will be doing some scouting. In part to restore our satellite network, but also to find a target for boarding. Likely a frigate class ship, perhaps larger. And all twelve of you will be on the op, under the command of Nu t'Nnk." I could only see two heads from my position, belonging to Erine Giorno and Sheron Poler. Erine's turned to look in the Split warrior's direction; Sheron remained still. Perhaps trying to impress me. Or perhaps her nerves had hardened since her disastrous first op. I hoped the latter was the case.

"He will arrange you into four squads. Another seven of the others will fill out the boarding team. And, I hope, that by this time tomorrow, you will all be blooded warriors."

I stopped there to let the message sink in. Only Sheron Poler had been on a real boarding mission. For the others, training had only now just ended. If any of them felt jittery, I would understand. I really wanted to see Brent Jorwan's reaction, but I couldn't see him. Whatever the case may be, none of them moved. Good.

After a few heartbeats of stillness, I turned around and started walking, and raised my voice for the first time. "You only have a few hours. Prepare yourselves."

-------------------------------------

Nyota followed me out of the hangar. Probably because I beckoned to her on the way. Possibly because she wanted to. And maybe because we had made an agreement that she was supposed to be with me at all times.

I really hoped we were past that.

"I'll want you flying the Minotaur for this," I told her on the way to the Zeus' bridge. "I'll jump us back to the fleet and get in transport range of your ship while I work on the satellites with your Discoverer." I glanced back and saw Nyota smiling...probably from my reference to both ships as 'hers'. "Don't mind if I borrow the fighter, do you?"

"There will be a rental fee," she said sweetly...but the look in her eyes was somewhat less than innocent.

"I'm sure I can handle it."

"We'll find out...sir."

My lover was getting too good at mockery.

-------------------------------------

The transports to the Minotaur went off without a hitch, as they always do. Finding advanced satellites, not so much. Oh, there were plenty out there. The problem was that this station had one, that one had four...never more than a handful at a time. It meant a lot of flying time to gather enough to be useful. And most of them were for sale at military bases, which I didn't feel especially comfortable visiting, even remotely. But I stuck to Boron and Teladi bases, which should be safe. Relatively.

Soon the Magnetar held nineteen satellites, after which I began the mostly-automated scouting run.

While the ships jumped and flew, I took the opportunity to contact someone, to ask a favor.

"Yesssss?"

"How is the merger proceeding?" I asked with a smile for Hohindras.

"Not assss expected," he replied with a disgusted tone. "They had debtsss. One of their miness hasss been seized. The other isss of medium yield in an area with little demand."

I shared in his frustration, since I had been looking forward to the extra income from those two mines. Oh well. "What about their freighters?"

The Teladi snorted. "Four of them were seized asss well. We have the other six. I would like to keep two for the microchip complex. The otherss I will find factoriess for, if you do not require them."

I thought that over for a few moments, while watching the Discoverer fly southward through Gunne's Crusade. One satellite was up, but there was nothing of interest in the northern half of the sector.

"I can't think of anything off-hand. Send me the specs on them anyway, so I know what's available to me while you do more hunting."

"Asss you wish. Iss there anything elsse?"

"Yes, actually. The main reason I called was to ask for a small favor." I could almost see the numbers scrolling behind his greedy eyes, but I was about to disappoint him. "I need to find some whiskey for my people...real whiskey, not space fuel. It's their celebratory drink and we're about to have some things to celebrate."

To my surprise, he actually looked somewhat offended. "Will I be invited?"

I smiled at him again. "I think my people would be upset if their supplier didn't partake."

He swayed from side to side, seeming to relax into his chair. "How ssoon do you require it?"

"A couple hours."

The monitor went black, leaving me to hope that he was just in a hurry.

-------------------------------------

For many reasons, I chose to do the scouting and satellite deployment remotely. First I would jump the Magnetar military transport in to a desired cluster of sectors, then send our lone M5 scout craft, a Discoverer Raider, to drop the satellites. The sectors I wanted eyes on, for now, were all pirate sectors; not only were they less apt to be noticed, but I wanted to test pirate reactions to our presence, see if they were still friendly.

The current network did include most of the Pirate Highway from Split Fire to Hatikvah's Faith. Nopileos' Memorial, Gunne's Crusade, and the stretch from Desecrated Skies to Acquisition Repository were my first priorities. I wasn't very interested in the area south of Grand Exchange, since non-pirate traffic had no reason to venture there. If I had any satellites, and time, left after this, I might drop some in whichever Argon sectors I was still blind in.

About halfway through, I was reminded that history always does love to repeat itself.

Nothing tempted me in Gunne's Crusade, Nopileos' Memorial, Acquisition Repository, Spaceweed Grove, or LooManckStrat's Legacy. My available satellite count was down to ten before I dropped the first one in Mi Ton's Refuge...and spotted an unescorted Paranid Agamemnon, heading south.

"Possible target in Mi Ton's Refuge," I said to Nyota, whom I had called shortly after Hohindras fled from me. "Near the middle of the sector, heading south toward Moo-Kye's Revenge. I'll fly the scout past it and get eyes on the south half of the sector and the north gate of Moo-Kye's to make sure there won't be reinforcements."

"Copy, sir. We'll be ready." She was watching the sector feeds too, but I was still commanding the operation, now from the Titan...which I would take into the sector if she got into trouble.

The Discoverer Raider was fast enough that the wait wasn't terribly long. I took that time to look at the frigate's shield count; it was less than the maximum, topping out at 4.4 GJs. Apparently they had two slots filled with 200 MJs instead of 1 GJs. That suited me fine, since it meant fewer missiles required.

Another satellite drop showed me most of the relevant part of the sector; the only other ship present was a Boron food transporter.

"Almost time," I said quietly. The scout craft went through the south gate and I switched to the new sector view. The next satellite, I hid behind one of the asteroids just west of the gate. The new view showed me a few pirate fighters, but no real threats.

Another look at Mi Ton's showed the Agamemnon still a fair distance from the south gate. "Pilot," I said to Nyota, just to get in the habit for when others might be listening to our transmissions in combat, "your target is the Agamemnon in Mi Ton's Refuge. Jump to the south gate and engage to capture."

"On the way!" she replied eagerly, then turned away to talk to the waiting commandos. While she did that, I jumped the Magnetar to the gate near the Discoverer to collect our scout ship. I could deploy the rest of the satellites later. For now, I wanted to focus on the op.

It always felt strange, watching combat on a map. Usually I did so while in the sector already, but not this time. I couldn't see anything, other than two symbols and the distance between them. I decided that I didn't like it. Not only did I feel a loss of control, but in this instance I was almost completely blind. I couldn't see the missiles, though I heard Nyota announce the launch. I could watch the Agamemnon's shield count, but I had to switch back to Moo Kye's to jump the Magnetar back out; it also carried a Nova, which held the spare jump drive I would be transferring to the target, once it was ours.

So many details.

"Launching five Flails."

I went back to the view of Mi Ton's, then selected the target frigate and pulled up it's information screen. Speed was still only 60 m/s. Shields full. Laser power at full. The waiting was nerve-wracking, but Nyota knew what she was doing. If she didn't, I wouldn't have trusted her with the lives of twenty of my people. Again.

"Last torpedo less than two kilometers to target," Nyota announced. I waited, patiently, and a few seconds later the shield summary changed several times in rapid succession. It stopped at 4%, just above 200 MJs, and the ship accelerated to 107.9 m/s.

I wanted to ask her how far away it was, but decided not to bother her. Knowing wouldn't help me anyway.

So I just kept watching and resisting the urge to be a pest. The target's shields dropped again, this time to 2%.

"Launching more flails," Nyota said calmly, then hesitated before speaking again. "Boarding pods away."

This was it. We were committed. And no matter how many times we crossed this line, I still, always, felt my anxiety level rising.

I closed the Agamemnon's status window. Watching those numbers was not helping me, not at all. I was surprised, however, when I heard a new but familiar voice say, "Hull contact. We are breaching." It sounded distant. Nyota must have turned up the volume on her end, enough for me to hear it. Maybe she knew me better than I knew her.

"Prepare for entry in three, two, one. Go." Nu t'Nnk was, perhaps, the calmest Split I had ever met. Granted, he had been altered by the pirate training programs, but it was this trait that I had chosen him to lead the operation for. That, and being Split; I wanted the Marines to get used to taking orders from our race, even in high-stress situations. And of the three Split commandos I had, he was the least intimidating. To me, at least.

The in-combat comms were sporadic. I didn't know who the squad leaders were, but they were apparently doing well. Or Nu just didn't care and pushed them with nothing more than a quiet voice and nerves of steel.

"Deck three clear."

Halfway there. If I remembered right. Did frigates have three decks or four? Four. Four. Ugh. I really just wanted to be in the sector. Why had I chosen to wait at the fleet anyway?

"Deck four clear."

The sounds of combat, if anything, intensified. I wanted to know what it sounded like without the muffling caused by the second-hand transmission. But it was too late to bother now. I just had to wait.

And wait I did, until I heard, "We have victory." The Agamemnon's symbol on the map went green and went to the top of the list. My anxiety didn't ease, however, until I received the next report. "Resistance neutralized. Zero casualties. We will-"

I stopped listening. Better have my whiskey, you greedy green-skin.

-------------------------------------

The throne room, for lack of a better term, of the Patriarch of All Split was preceded by a large antechamber. The entrance to this antechamber was a microcosm of the Dynasty itself. The massive single door to the chamber was a masterpiece in and of itself. The outside of it was 'decorated'; numerous metal spikes of varying dimensions protruded from it, and hanging from each was a memento of a vanquished Split family. These mementos came in the form of some part of the family's dead patriarch. They were not all the same, for different reasons. Sometimes their successor just had different tastes. Other times, only a few parts of the deposed had survived the battle.

Slots in the wall above for the spikes allowed the door to be raised unimpeded. Unlike most of the other mechanisms in the palace, this door was manually operated, raised by slaves hidden in the walls to either side of the door. The position was both an honor and a punishment, and was overseen by a number of stalwart warriors. The slaves could choose to rebel against a command, and often did. To their dismay, those who did so were rarely killed. One could still work with a missing limb.

Pu t'Tn could not see the slaves, but commands were given and the door rose before him. Straight ahead, no less than seventy meters away, was another doorway. This one had a magnetic barrier, though at the moment it was inactive. On the other side of it was a raised dais, only a few centimeters tall. In the center of it stood the Patriarch. That platform was the only throne he had. A seated patriarch was nothing more than a target, after all.

The handler strode straight ahead, never bothering to glance to either side of the antechamber. It was occupied, of course. There would be many dignitaries present, as well as a number of guards. And the walls themselves were impressive for a different reason: they held symbols of all the active families.

The decorations in this room changed often.

So did the people in it. Pu t'Tn had no time for them. His gaze never left the man in front of him, whom he had traveled a long way to stand before. After passing the threshold into the throne room proper, the magnetic field activated. It did more than bar passage into the room; it also reflected and dispersed sounds waves, effectively making the room soundproof. Light was affected as well, in lesser ways. Always brightened, however. One did not hide from the Patriarch's gaze.

The view of the room was not blocked. Let those beneath him watch. He would pay them no heed.

The Split handler halted a couple meters shy of the platform. The only show of deference he offered was a slight nod, to which Rhonkar t'Ncct smiled. Quite briefly. Pu t'Tn thought their leader looked far older than he should. But the average length of a patriarch's tenure is three years, and this one had surpassed that twenty-three years ago. But over time, his position was becoming more and more tenuous. It always does.

"We have much to speak of," Rhonkar said, "but little time. Our guests will arrive shortly and I want certain individuals outside to witness this event. So tell me about my wayward agent, briefly."

The handler nodded again. "I confirmed that he attacked the stations in Family Pride." That confirmation had come from the activation of one of their many defense programs. Specifically, one that chose a small target, in this case one of the fighters involved in the attack on Family Pride's shipyard, and imprinted itself on the craft's computer. It would have been more destructive, had it been left alone, but when threatened with deletion it contacted Pu t'Tn. The ensuing conversation answered a lot of questions. "He claims that he is impersonating the Paranid to provoke all the families into action against them."

Rhonkar's eyes narrowed. "Claims. You suspect otherwise?"

"I do not know. He may have been honest, but used this method to get revenge for our treatment of him. Honorable combat is not an option available to him. Or he could have other goals entirely."

Rhonkar's gaze flicked past t'Tn's head, then returned. "His loyalty must be tested. See to it." He tapped his leg and the magnetic barrier dissipated, allowing others to join them. One of the patriarch's hands flitted through a couple poses, and t'Tn acknowledged the command by stepped to the side and turning around. Just in time, as it happened, to witness the beheading of one of Family Zein's personal retainers for making the mistake of trying to follow his patriarch without permission.

None of the patriarchs reacted. The leaders of the greater families Zein, Whi, Njy, and Zyarth stepped into the throne room and arrayed themselves in a semicircle around the Patriarch of All Split. The barrier flared back to life, and almost immediately guards kicked the backs of their legs. All fell to their knees. Pu t'Tn saw a brief glint of light in Njy's hand, but no warning was necessary. The guard behind the fallen Split touched a blade to his neck, and Njy opened his hand. A knife fell to the floor and was quickly retrieved.

"I am delighted to see you all recognize my displeasure," Rhonkar said. More than just the four of them recognized it; a crowd was gathering on the other side of the barrier, and all of them saw that none of the kneeling patriarchs lifted their heads to look Rhonkar in the eye. To do so would be to make a challenge, and they were not ready to do so.

"Pu t'Tn. How many experimental weapons did your investigation discover missing due to the betrayals of these four?"

Zein flinched at the use of the word 'betrayal', much to the hander's amusement. He knew of the plot between Zein and Njy to use the threat of famine by withholding the stocks of their predominantly agricultural production to depose and ultimately destroy Family Rhonkar. He had not bothered to tell the Patriarch, because none of the more honorable families would tolerate it. "Twenty-three. A mix of pain- and hallucination-inducing tools, non-lethal rifles and sidearms, miniature explosives, and covert corrosives."

The list was not an intimidating one...until one considered whose mind had developed them. Zein was beginning to tremble, but the others held themselves together rather well.

Rhonkar addressed them again in a low voice."If those weapons are used against our military or operatives, the negligence of your families to send trustworthy men to Fui t'Sht's laboratory will be remembered. But your family names will not." Whi's head came up for a moment, but reason reasserted itself and he lowered it again. Slowly. In the end, the forced submission did not matter.

"I hope that your families understand the importance of loyalty and action. I hope you four do too, when you arrive in your new homes."

Whi started to rise again, obviously recognizing what was in store. Or part of it. None of them foresaw what came next, nor did they have time to react in any case. With a single gesture, four guards acted in unison. Blades sliced in upward arcs, and the right arm of each kneeling patriarch flew away with a spray of blood.

Their screams were ignored, as were the shocked or outraged reactions of many of the onlookers. More guards materialized to bring order with raised weapons, bladed and projectile alike. In the throne room, Rhonkar spoke to the men writhing on the floor, pretending they could hear him and unconcerned about whether they actually did. "You will never see or lead your families again. If you perform well, you may one day lead a work crew in my mines. But I doubt it." He gestured again and the magnetic field was brought down, allowing the guards to drag the four wounded Split out.

-------------------------------------

Pu t'Tn watched the Patriarch of All Families step down from the dais after the barrier was again restored. Rhonkar walked a slow circle around the limbs and blood, though what he was looking for, t'Tn could not guess. "How many families have tried to secure your aid in my downfall?"

All of them, the handler thought to himself with a smile. It was not quite true. Some few understood that he enjoyed his job immensely and didn't care at all who was in power. Nor did he have any ambition to take control himself.

"We have no leads on the identities of the thieves," he answered to preempt the next question and dismiss the current one. "They were Split and they knew what they were doing. I have eliminated all with direct knowledge of the event. Those with peripheral knowledge can make their own assumptions, unless you command otherwise."

Rhonkar crouched and touched his fingertips to the surface of a pool of blood. Whi's. "If you were unable to determine more in four days, I doubt anything more will be found. But watch for use of those weapons."

"Of course. Is there anything else?"

"Not presently. Return to your duties."

Pu t'Tn bowed his head, which the Patriarch could not see, before leaving. And despite stepping in some of the blood on his way out, he left not a single footprint to mark his passage.



Last edited by Song Of Obsidian on Sat, 12. Sep 15, 20:43; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Wed, 2. Sep 15, 00:21    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Song Of Obsidian wrote:
[..]
Fair warning, this post is a long one.
[..]

What the...

This is probably the most ludicrous understatement since.. well, I don't know.. even 'forever' seems an inappropriate word for this.

I literally can't even... like, seriously now, how many innocents will I have to sacrifice to recieve eternal life so I can read all this Laughing

Screw that. You know what?
I'm going to start at chapter one once I'm back at home on thursday and while I'm at it, I'll copy it over and start building a pdf of this like I did with nuklear_slug's wanton use of nukes back in the day.
Well, if you're ok with it, that is Wink


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PostPosted: Mon, 7. Sep 15, 14:45    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

I won't object. Just makes me want to go back and edit everything to fix my mistakes. Which I won't do. I'd go insane.

Would have posted this sooner, but I got lost in Prodigal Son. Only 20-something pages to go...damn you Scion. I wanted to actually see the sun on my weekend off.


Chapter 113 - A Hacker's Dream


Relocating my fleet was becoming a chore I had to perform too often, for my tastes.

As much as I would like to think the need to do so was about to end, my Paranid hunters had been less of a problem than the Split were proving. Twice they had discovered the location of my chosen staging area, and unfortunately suitable sectors were too few to begin with. And I had to flee a sector twice in less than a month.

This time I chose a sector I had used before. The unnamed sector between Montalaar and New Income was large enough to get lost in, though the odds of discovery were probably higher than I really would like. But it would suit until I could look for something more appropriate.

The 'fleet' didn't include any of my stolen Split ships; those were all on defensive taskings at my weapon complexes. This still left seventeen ships, minus the Magnetar I had carting energy cells. Maybe I should just move everything to my new weapons complex. I would love to see the Split try to take a fleet through Xenon space to get to it. Though I wouldn't want them to find out it exists, either...

There were other needs too. Since all of my commandos were currently with the fleet or with Elmanckardet, I sent the personnel transports to hunt for more advanced satellites. I wished I still had the Hydra that Chianna had brought with her when she joined us. It wasn't linked to any of my operations and had a large cargo capacity. But I had given it back to her when she left, and I didn't know what she did with it afterward.

Hm.

With Chianna in mind, I put in a call to Hohindras.

-------------------------------------

"I have your whisskey," the Teladi said by way of greeting. Might be the first time I hadn't gotten a long 'yes' from him.

"Good. Let me come get you. I don't think it's a good idea to bring the Hercules here."

"Perhapss you should give me a fighter. The Hercules hasss docking bayss."

I thought that over. Certainly wouldn't be a bad idea, giving him some extra mobility. It would need a decent cargo bay so he could carry jump fuel and any special cargo...like the whiskey. "Hm. I have a Skate I could supply you with. Decent cargo, shields, speed. Everything you might need."

"How about a Kea?" he asked in a hopeful but insistent tone, to which I could only shake my head.

"Too slow...just like every Teladi ship. No. If you need to move faster than the Hercules will allow, Teladi ships won't do you any good." Or maybe I just liked twisting his tail too much.

"You will learn ressspect for Teladi wayss, one day."

"I gave you the Shrike, didn't I?" It wasn't quite true. I just paid for it and made him get it himself. Technicality. "I'll send you the Skate. Get yourself and the whiskey aboard, and I'll bring you to the fleet. Then I'll transfer control of the fighter to you so you can use it whenever needed. Fair?"

"No, but it isss acceptable."

"See you shortly, then." I cut the link and busied myself with yet more tedious logistical concerns, like the good little martyr that I am.

-------------------------------------

It occurred to me, admittedly too late to do anything about it, that introducing a Teladi with no actual title to a group of Argon-trained Marines who believed this to be some sort of crusade against the crusading Paraind might, just might, end in disaster.

My worries were not completely baseless. Nor, as it turned out, were they quite so dire. When Hohindras arrived at the stateroom of the Titan with a seemingly old-fashioned cask - that happened to be made from metal but stylized to look like aged wood - the eight commandos in the room put up a single-note cheer and started looking for drinking containers. The Marines, whom I might eventually have to start thinking of as commandos on equal footing with my own, appeared almost universally confused. It would have been amusing, if I wasn't so worried that they would be less than accepting of our diminutive scaly friend.

Enter Nyota. Skipping. "Hohindras!" It was hard to tell if she shouted because he was surprised to see him or because she almost knocked him over when she skipped into the room behind him. But she seemed genuinely excited to see him and, watching from a vantage point a few strides from the door, I thought that excitement just might have been mutual. Of course it was. How could the lizard not be glad to see my lover, who bent down to hug - hug - him? Though he did not return the embrace. He merely patted her head in a manner so paternal that I couldn't banish unwanted images fast enough.

The Teladi hissed in what I interpreted to be disapproval. "The tall onesss should not hug Teladi. Or did you not notice the shortnessss of this one'ss armssss?" he chided in a threatening tone. Nyota and several of the commandos laughed, and she hugged him again before moving on to mingle.

More importantly, a couple of the Marines joined in. I watched Brent Jorwan in particular. He didn't laugh, but after noting how his comrades had relaxed, the man just shrugged dismissively. Maybe I was unfairly suspicious of him. Then again, maybe not.

By that time, Nu t'Nnk had the cask on a table and was filling tumblers, two at a time. And every time he filled a pair, he walked to a pair of commandos and gave them the drinks himself. I had noticed this before, but it didn't really sink in until this moment. Normally Aron performed this ritual. But Aron had not been on this op. I thought the man simply chose to serve those he fought with, but I realized, this time, that whoever led the op always served the drinks. So I paid more attention. He did not merely give everyone a drink. He made eye contact with each. What was he conveying? Acceptance? Approval? Again, I couldn't tell, but each took the offered drink with a solemnness that seemed out of place in a celebration.

But the solemnity was like a ripple in the room. Whoever was given a drink possessed it. And then it was gone from them, passed on to the next pair while they resumed talking amongst themselves. Sharing details of their part in the battle, praising another for some act or another, or laughing at some unfortunate Paranid's demise. But all of the conversation was about the op, which I had not participated in this time.

So I was glad when Hohindras approached me...with a drink in his hand. He had been the first to receive one. Thanks for providing their victory libations, I supposed. Though unlike the others, his had a straw. "You owe me for thisss," he said archly. "I had to call in a favor to acquire the casssk ssso quickly."

Every time I started getting comfortable with him. This game was getting tiresome. Hohindras was well-compensated for his time, no matter what tasks I gave him. "I'll remember that the next time I let you use one of my ships to collect nividium," I replied with a tone of warning that didn't quite match my smile. His reptilian eyes narrowed, but I continued more amiably. "I do appreciate your celerity, though. They more than deserve this celebration, and you've been overdue for a break too, I think."

"It isss nice to be among friendsss," he said uncertainly, with a pointed look around at some of my people. "At least they do not try to barter."

"Just wait until the gambling starts," I said wryly, to which Hohindras snorted.

"That, I will stay for. One can never have too many creditsss."

I had to nod my agreement to THAT sentiment. "Speaking of. How goes the construction of your complex?"

He gave me that shrewd look that continued to make me uneasy. "It isss nearly finished. The infrastructure isss complete. It only requiresss three more microchip factoriesss and another pilot. Then we should be making eighty to ninety-six million creditsss in profit per day."

My eyes widened, much to his satisfaction. "Do you think the demand will keep up with the supply?"

He shrugged, but the conversation was interrupted by Nu t'Nnk. "Commander," he intoned respectfully, and offered me a tumbler of whiskey. Which I accepted, of course, even though I hadn't been in the battle.

I took a swig from it, and managed not to wince. Not while Hohindras was watching me. But the stuff burned on the way down, and the burn lingered too. I could already feel a headache coming on. "I was meaning to ask you. Who were the squad leaders for this one?"

"Myself, Gu t'Kt, Ban Claasen, and Sheron Poler," he replied without hesitation. My brows rose at the last name, and he apparently understood my unspoken question. "Aron wished to test her again. His trust was not misplaced."

I didn't ask for details. My people knew what they were doing. "And the others?"

"They are still alive." I waited a moment, but it seemed he had nothing more to offer. Even after the 'training' my commandos had received...he was still Split.

"Thank you. You can return to your team. Make sure they don't drink too much. We may need them again soon."

A motion to the side drew my attention. Cio t'Hnk was looking at me with such intensity that his eagerness was palpable. He must have heard my last comment. I nodded to him and he looked away again, smiling so fiercely that the woman he was talking to - Mikela, I think was her name - took an involuntary step back. Which just made his upside-down smile broaden. I had never seen that sort of behavior from any of my commandos, and it made me wary. He reminded me too much of the Split I considered my enemies. Maybe their training wasn't as effective as I had been led to believe.

Nu watched the unspoken exchange between me and Cio, then thumped his chest with a fist, nodded and turned away. Leaving me, again, with Hohindras, who asked amusedly, "How many Argon have your brothersss eaten?"

The reference to them as 'my brothers' soured my mood, but I was careful not to let it show. "None. That I'm aware of, at least." I sighed softly, and sought out Nyota. She was sitting on the edge of a table, listening to one of the Marines recountng some part of the battle. Her lips were turned up in a half-smile, the sort you might see from someone so engaged and lost in a story that they are practically dreaming. I decided to leave her be, and started for the door with a gesture to Hohindras. "Enjoy this little break, but don't forget to find something for our new frieghters to do."

"Yesss, massster." I almost did a double-take when I heard the challenge in his tone, but no. Not here.

I needed to do something with him, before I wound up with another Chianna in my midst.

-------------------------------------

There was no question about it. I wasn't sleeping enough.

I came to this conclusion when I woke up and checked the time. 18:33. Fourteen hours. That was how long I had slept. If anyone had tried to wake me, I had no memory of it. I turned over to look at the other side of the bed, and sure enough, someone had slept there. Either that or I had laid my head on the other pillow at some point during the night.

Wait.

I hadn't laid down on a bed this big. Or a bed at all, as far as I could remember. I was...what was I doing last? There was the party, but I left. Checked with the the commandos guarding our Paranid prisoners. Went to the bridge of the Titan and made sure our ships were loaded up with energy cells again. Then...what?

A moment of paranoia had me wondering where the hell I was. But my communicator, PDA, remote access controller, and knives were all on the table beside me. So I wasn't a captive. Right?

I threw off the sheets and sat up, only to find myself naked. It took a moment to register, but there was a folded flight suit on the small counter in the corner of the room. But that I ignored, and instead went to the porthole near it. And breathed a sigh of relief.

Spread out before me were very familiar ships. I could see the Zeus, the Magnetar, and two missile frigates, as well as a couple corvettes that were too far away to identify.

I looked back at the bed. Probably Nyota's doing. Almost definitely. So with a mental shrug I donned the flight suit and put my gadgets and weapons in various places, then set out to find the damned woman.

-------------------------------------

The bridge was occupied, but not by Nyota. A sweaty Kaylen Gisler spun on the door when it opened to let me in, and by the time I raised a hand to wave her off there was a sidearm aimed at my head. A sidearm that, when she recognized me, disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared. "Commander," she said, then peered at one of the screens for a moment and went back to a fast-paced exercise that had her twisting and bending a lot. Her feet never moved though. Flexibility training, maybe.

"Know where Nyota is?" I asked as I moved to the captain's seat.

"Yes sir." She didn't even slow her routine. "She's making circuits around the fleet in a scout ship."

"If she's that bored, I'll have to find something for her to do." Then again, she might just miss flying something faster than capital ships. I looked at the nav screen, and I could see she was in the Discoverer she had met me in. So I put a call in to her.

Her face came up immediately, with a teasing smile on her lips. "Was starting to wonder if you'd come back."

I smiled faintly. "I got lost somewhere. Imagine my surprise when I woke up in a bed fit for two."

"You told me once that I could bed down with you to regulate your schedule," she said cheerfully, then looked startled when Kaylen coughed. "Is that Kaylen? She still doing squats on the bridge?"

"No, she's trying to break a hip now." No response from Kaylen. She did seem to ignore males a lot, when she wasn't pointing a gun at them.

Nyota rolled her eyes."She's been at it for over three hours. Tell her to stop for a drink, at least."

I looked at my warrior, and she pointedly grabbed a squeeze bottle, squirted some into her mouth and set it down. Without slowing down. "She's fine," I said with a shrug. "But anyway. Did anything happen while I was out?" I started cycling through some sector maps to get my bearings.

"You received a couple messages on the comm. I tried to wake you. Finally just silenced it."

Frowning, I pulled up my message list and found three. One of them didn't have a sender listed. Another was from a Boron named Humi Wi. And the last one was from Krimanckelttak. Which I chose to open last, since it would be the most urgent. If that made sense.

I read the one from the Boron first. He knew of the help I had given Mahi Ma, whom I had forgotten about again, and asked me to meet him in Ocean of Fantasy for a 'matter of great importance'. Well, if Humi Wi was as annoying as Mahi Ma, I might pass on that. Or I'd pass on it to avoid meeting a Boron as annoying as Mahi Ma. Either way.

So I opened the second message, half expecting it to be from my assassin friend. But when I glanced at the bottom, my blood ran cold. How did he find me? AGAIN?

"Is everything alright?" Nyota asked, but I started reading and didn't answer.

    Have orders from Rhonkar. Split will attack Paranid after families re-educated. Losing ally weakens Split. Need to weaken other enemies first.

    Go to Senator's Badlands. Speak to captain of Akuma destroyer. Knows you are coming. Perform tasks with all urgency. For honor of all Split.

    - Pu t'Tn

Dammit.

So I had two urgent missions. I wasted no time opening Krim's message.

    Unholy One. I have your contract. We will make the exchange at 20:00, 768-07-01. Meeting location will be a jump beacon in Friar's Retreat. Any attempted treachery will lead to your death, for the glory of the Paranid Empire and Almighty Xaar. Excellency Krimanckelttak

His title left me with some things to ponder, but unfortunately I didn't have time to indulge in it. The meeting was a little over an hour off. I could have insisted that we do things on my terms. After all, he was putting me in a Paranid sector with two heavy military presences nearby. Plus I didn't have satellites in the area at all. But, he didn't NEED anything I was going to give him. He just wanted them. Wanted the name of the traitor desperately, but didn't need it. I did need that contract. So he was setting the rules.

"Nyota, I need you on the Minotaur, now. Get Aron to arrange for a 20-man team to join you, just in case. The rest will be going with me to escort the prisoners. I'll explain more as soon as I can."

"Yes sir."

It was going too fast now. Glad I had gotten some sleep first, at least...



Last edited by Song Of Obsidian on Tue, 12. Apr 16, 03:53; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Tue, 8. Sep 15, 16:21    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Chapter 114 - Questions and Answers


Decisions, decisions...

Much as I wanted to, taking the Titan to this meeting would probably result in Krim instantly either fleeing or calling in backup. And with a jump beacon there, he could put a lot of reinforcements right on top of me in a hurry. Best to go light to avoid making him aggressive. But that didn't mean I wouldn't poke him in his third eye, so to speak.

First things first, though. If I was meeting him, I wanted to peek into the sector first. So I needed a nice, unobtrusive ship to send in, preferably with a satellite to drop. Hm...

"Commander."

I glanced at Kaylen and found her watching me expectantly. "You'll be needed today, Kaylen. Return to your team. And when you see Aron, tell him I want the prisoners transferred to the Hyperion with ID YM6UM-51. With as many guards as possible. He can pull more from the group I brought back the other day if need be. Just leave someone to watch Mak."

"I will. And don't forget that you owe Nyota dinner." My head snapped around to look at her, but she was already dissolving where she stood in the throes of a transport.

Damned women.

-------------------------------------

I chose a regular Perseus to scout Friar's Retreat and drop a satellite. It required a couple hops for refueling, due to the heavy fighter's small cargo bay, but a short while later I jumped it into the sector. Not seeing any immediate threats, I ordered it to a position above the center of the sector. Knowing I had a deadline to meet, I used the few minutes it took to get there wisely. Namely by transporting myself to the Hyperion Vanguard that I knew Krim would LOVE to see in a Split's possession.

By the time I got aboard and situated, and made sure I had enough energy cells, and that the Minotaur was sufficiently armed to handle most threats, the Perseus was in position. So I dropped a satellite and jumped the fighter out again. But I was not happy with what I saw.

I didn't know where in the sector that beacon would show up. Those bombers and corvettes could quickly engage us and keep us busy long enough for other forces to arrive, however. Assuming I didn't just jump away. Unless that wasn't an option. But in the Hyperion I could outrun them all, and it had more than enough turrets to handle any missiles they might try to send after me. As long as the barrage was a small one.

Time check. 19:14.

Someone entered the bridge and I glanced back to see who it was. Gu t'Kt stopped and thumped his chest in greeting, to which I nodded slowly. "Everyone accounted for?"

"We are. Aron leads from the Minotaur. Your prisoners are secured. We stunned them again," he said matter-of-factly, and I couldn't help but chuckle.

"Wise move. The fewer complications we have on this mission, the better." Hm. This COULD get complicated pretty quickly. Wonder how Krim would react if I destroyed the beacon right after jumping in. It would cut off reinforcements for both of us, but to be honest I don't want a pitched battle right now. However I go about dealing with this contract, it needs to be the only news people are hearing about.

Hm. News.

An idea began to form, pieces falling into place one after another. "Be ready for action," I muttered distractedly to the squad leader behind me, then raised Nyota on the comms.

"Just give us the signal," she said without prelude.

"I will if I need you. But I have a question. What's the name of the news outlet you've been checking in Argon Prime?"

-------------------------------------

Over the course of half an hour, numerous Paranid capital ships passed through Friar's Retreat. One, a Zeus, entered from the east gate and then turned around and went back the way it came. I smiled when I saw it; that one was definitely waiting on me. I didn't think to check its hangar to see how many fighters it was carrying. Perhaps I should have taken a risk and dropped satellites in the surrounding sectors. Oh well.

Through it all, however, the two corvettes separately patrolled the sector, with all three bombers escorting one of them. That group would be my first set of targets, if this went badly.

At 19:50, another warship entered the sector and immediately caught my eye. It was a Heavy Nemesis. I brought up its scan data and found a familiar ID code. And captain's name.

"Nyota, I'll be jumping in a couple minutes. I'll leave a channel open on my wrist comm. If it goes silent, come to me immediately." I doubted they could or would jam transmissions, but...contingencies and all that.

"Copy. I have your six."

I closed the channel and opened a new one from my wrist, leaving the ship's comm open for the conversation with Krimanckelttak. Then just waited. And waited. For the eternity that amounted to three minutes, before I saw the jump beacon go live south-southeast of the sector center.

At that point, the lone Nemesis corvette was near the west gate, heading south, and the escorted one was to the northeast, heading...toward the beacon. I didn't want it getting too close. Or rather, I didn't want the bombers getting too close.

"Here we go..."

-------------------------------------

Jumping to a beacon was a...different, experience. I didn't come out of the warp tunnel moving forward. My ship just appeared, motionless. I leaned forward and looked around, trying to get my bearings. The Heavy Nemesis I spotted immediately; it was directly to my right and facing me. Not close enough to actually see Krimanckelttak, but it felt like I was looking him in the eye. A very hungry eye. With thoughts of my ship's destruction behind it.

I hailed him immediately, while I brought up the map to check the distance to the bomber group. "You're very punctual."

He scowled at me. "Holy ones keep our word. Did you bring my crew with you?"

Twenty-four kilometers. Not as much as I would like. I wanted this over quickly. Especially before he realized I had a satellite in the sector, which he might figure out anyway, considering how quickly I jumped in. "I did. They are unconscious again, but all alive. Give me transport coordinates and I'll send them to you."

The ugly Paranid - a redundant phrase if there ever was one - stared at me blankly for a moment. He likely hadn't expected such magnanimity. After a moment he looked down, presumably to key in the coordinates. "Sending now."

My console chirped at me and I nodded, then called back to Gu and started the transport process. "Transporting the prisoners now." I didn't want my people to be confused when their charges started glowing.

Then I just watched the monitor, and Krim's face. And he watched me. Not sure what he saw. Split are the only ones who can really challenge a Paranid in single combat, but even then the odds were against us. There are a lot of reasons for their belief in their own superiority. More than just the third eye. So I could at least sum up what he saw in a couple words: an inferior being. Not that I am. I did capture him and his entire crew of fifteen with only six Argon commandos. In a heavy fighter, against a heavy corvette. And then met him in one of his race's rarest ships.

I didn't think looking smug would really be helpful right now. Besides, I had a surprise for him.

Eventually I heard another voice, speaking in the Paranid language. If their voices weren't so deep and didn't sound like they came from the stomach, it might be a musical language. But the triplets just sounded like engine noise to me. I guessed that whoever was with him confirmed that all of his captured crew was accounted for, because he nodded once and looked down again. "I am sending your contract. Tell me about the traitor."

Like hell, I thought inwardly. "You verified that your crew was intact and accounted for. I will verify that this contract is what I need before giving you that last piece of information."

He looked up again, and I met his stare evenly. On this, I would not budge. But I didn't have much time to spare, as he must have known. This might just be a stall tactic, actually. He looked down without a word, and I took the opportunity to check the distance of the bomber group again. Sixteen. And the other Nemesis was heading my way too. Of course.

The console chirped again and I opened the message. I didn't need to really read it; scanning would suffice. It would have to. A few key words and phrases caught my eye. Inquisitors...locate and terminate...unidentified Split male...fee of 7.5 million credits, plus recompense for expenses...

It all looked pretty standard, until I got closer to the end, and I was NOT expecting it. ...intelligence provided on target...service to Pontifex Maximus Paranidia...Paranid will grant heathens of sector Montalaar clemency...abstain from attacks for nine years...

I almost laughed. Restraint was NOT easy. I looked at the bottom, and right there, signed and printed, was the name I needed. Admiral Liom N. Keswen.

You damned fool. The Paranid definitely came out ahead in this arrangement. But I could dwell on that later. I looked at the monitor and smiled at Krim...while typing into the console. "Very well. A while ago you lost a scout in the Teladi sector of Ceo's Doubt. I captured him, and he told me about you and your Cohort in exchange for his freedom." Krim's expression hardened. I had gotten the impression from the scout that there was bad blood between them already. Looking at Krimanckelttak now...yeah, I was right. "He has taken refuge in the sector south of Heaven's Assertion." That wasn't necessarily true. He only told me that he was going to join the 'traitor Duke'. Close enough. But I had talked long enough to type in the last line of code...and hit 'Send'.

"Our business is concluded," Krim snarled with as much dignity as he could manage. Then the screen went black.

"Almost," I said softly, then raised my wrist to talk to Nyota. "Bring the Minotaur in." Not sure when I decided that those bombers and corvettes had offended me so much that I wanted to do something about them instead of just leaving. But I did.

So while I waited, I just watched the Heavy Nemesis. It had turned away and was accelerating toward the east gate. I wondered if Cohort Two made its home in Duke's Citadel. Cohort One in Paranid Prime, then? Interesting hypothesis, but no wa-

The heavy corvette bucked sharply and started venting smoke. It turned again, to port, then straightened out for a split second...right before a bright white light started seeping out from cracks in the hull. Then it exploded brilliantly, much like a small firestorm torpedo, and I had to cover my eyes due to the proximity of it.

When I could see again, the Minotaur was above me, launching flail barrages without any commands from me. The space Krimanckelttak's ship had occupied was empty. There was no debris whatsoever. Wonder if the Heavy Nemesis reactors have a tendency to critically overheat, or if it was just a tragic accident...

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PostPosted: Sat, 12. Sep 15, 20:22    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Chapter 115 - Of Shadows and Moonlight


That didn't go as planned.

Now, I trust Nyota's judgment...to a degree. Things have gotten a bit uncomfortable when she has chosen to question me in combat, but that only happened once. I do grant her a certain level of autonomy, and for the most part this has been very beneficial. Without her, I would not have learned about the bounty on my head, or about the Elena's Pride task force being sent after us. And she was proving to be an excellent asset, especially during our raid into Split territory. That list of smashed ships from her assault on Rhonkar's Fire? I could have kissed her. Then again, I remember doing just that, eventually...

This one was probably my fault, however. I only told her to jump to my location. Being blinded by the effects of my sabotage may have prevented me from giving her further instructions, but I was not prepared for What she did next. My desire was to destroy the two Nemesis corvettes and three Hades bombers. Imagine my surprise when I saw boarding pods leaving the Minotaur's launch tubes...

Most of the commandos on them were my former Marines. One squad was led by Sheron Poler. The other, by Marissa Halter. The choice of Marissa was sound; she is one of the most efficient squad leaders we have. They are all efficient, because that was how they were trained. But something about the woman made those around her fight exceptionally well. And more, exceptionally fast. Not quite on the same level as Elmanckardet, but the two did seem to be of a similar breed...disturbing as that might sound.

Using Sheron would have worried me, if I had known at the time. Then again, using the Marines to fill out the boarding teams would have worried me too. We were in extremely hostile territory with two military sectors connected to it. And I didn't even have a ship on standby to bring energy cells and jumpdrives if this worked. There was so much to lose...

So I watched with a sinking feeling in my stomach as boarding pods and swarm missiles flew toward both of the corvettes. It was too late to do anything about it, so I didn't make any comments to Nyota. I did, however, bring up my ship list and make sure that the Magnetar had some fighters with jumpdrives I could use. I had one as well, on the Medusa Prototype docked on my Hyperion. And I saw that I would need it, because the pilot of one of the bombers had bailed and left me with a beautiful present.

I brought up the map, and sure enough, a Zeus had entered the sector from the east gate. I thought about going for the bomber and giving it the Medusa's jumpdrive, but...if I could only save one ship, it was going to be one with my commandos aboard. Assuming either of the captures was successful. Neither ship had been scanned, so they could have sentry lasers or polarized hulls or advanced encryption or any number of additional defenses to stall my people long enough for that carrier to get closer. Or any fighters it might be carrying.

A quick scan of the Zeus showed it carried fifteen fighters, but none had been launched. It was heading our way, though. And though it would be easier to destroy it with the Minotaur's torpedoes, I didn't want to draw that kind of attention just yet.

Sitting silent this time just wouldn't cut it, though. Thankfully, I didn't need to bother the commandos for updates. I just held up my wrist. "There is a Zeus incoming. Do not attack it. Status of the boarding ops?"

Nyota answered quietly. "Order acknowledged. Northern target is almost ours. Western target is still on deck one."

Dammit. I made an executive decision and accelerated toward the northern Nemesis. If we took it, I wanted to be able to get it out before the other could get in range and start firing on the unshielded and disabled ship. They were perhaps twelve kilometers apart, and the other one could have either concussion impulse generators or ion shard railguns, both a range over three kilometers, in the main battery. Which meant they could be in range of each other in a minute or so. Less, maybe, with closure rates. Thankfully I only needed to be within five kilometers to transport a jumpdrive and energy cells over. Which took all of ten seconds.

Wished I could hear the combat chatter at that point.

The IFF brackets around the Nemesis in front of me abruptly turned blue, then green, and I wasted no time in transferring a jumpdrive and energy cells over. Then I sent it to Depths of Silence, a Boron sector that I knew would be safe and ordered it to the equipment dock.

"The other team is on deck three, sir."

I took a deep breath, then checked distances again. The Zeus was still over twenty kilometers away. The abandoned bomber, seven from me. The other Nem-

My ship started shaking, and the Hyperion's shields lit up with golden sparks from ion shards. I hit the accelerators and initiated a jump back to the beacon. A short dive and a roll toward my attacker was all it took to evade its weapons fire until the jump brought me to a halt under the Minotaur.

I spared a moment to check the captured corvette's status, and was relieved to find five people aboard. Then I targeted the still-hostile Nemesis north-northwest of me and did a scan of its systems. No sentry lasers. It had hull polarization, but that was irrelevant at this point. "Have they reported any casualties?"

"No sir. They're hacking now." Which was a good thing, since the corvette was firing on me again. I started some evasive maneuvers downward, away from the beacon, so they didn't accidentally destroy it.

It didn't take long for control to be transferred to us. The Zeus was still twenty-one kilometers away and there weren't any other military targets in the sector. So I brought the Magnetar in and started switching jumpdrives around, one to the Nemesis and another to the Medusa, while I accelerated toward the bomber. "Head back to the fleet. I'll get the new ships squared away and then rejoin you."

"Yes sir." Moments later she was gone, and less than a minute after that, so was I.

-------------------------------------

-> Date: 768-07-01 23:12
-> Communication Request Denied
-> Security Matrix Activated
-> Intrusion Alert
-> Countermeasure Deployed
-> Tracing Program Initiated
->
->
-> Virus Upload Aborted
->
->
-> Security Override Authorized
->
->
-> Failsafe Procedure Aborted
->
->
->
-> Transmission Origin Detection Failed
->
->
->
-> Broadwave Communication Protocols Accessed
-> Incoming Message
->
->
->
-> OUR ENEMIES HAVE FOUND AN ALLY.
-> WHILE DEALING WITH THIS ALLIANCE, WE WERE FORCED TO REMAIN SILENT.
-> NOW IT IS TIME FOR A RECKONING.
-> A POWERFUL MAN BETRAYED ALL ENEMIES OF THE PARANID.
-> HE BETRAYED HIS OATH TO THE FEDERATION AND ITS PEOPLE.
-> HE GAVE THE PARANID INFORMATION AND MONEY.
-> IN EXCHANGE FOR PROTECTION.
-> THIS CANNOT BE FORGIVEN.
->
-> PROOF OF THIS MAN'S TREACHERY WILL BE MADE PUBLIC.
-> SOON.
->
-> SIGNED, GUNNE'S HEIRS

-------------------------------------

There just isn't enough time in a day.

After the battle was over, I told Nyota that I was not to be disturbed unless we were under attack. Partly so I could handle yet more logistal concerns. And partly because I didn't want to snap at her for making me feel so panicked when she chose to capture those two corvettes. It was really my fault for not giving her specific orders, and disciplining her twice in such a short span could have seriously damaged her confidence. So I bit my tongue and just avoided her for a little while.

Not that I wasn't productive. Our three new ships had joined the fleet. Getting 25 MJ shields for the bomber had been a tedious annoyance. I really, really wished I could produce them. I even found some Tomahawks for it. No point in having the thing if it didn't have teeth.

Then, after calming down somewhat, I read the contract in full. Was on autopilot when I wrote out the message I wanted to send via broadwave to all Argon worlds. But the defensive procedures were becoming...challenging. We needed a new avenue for communication, before using this method became too dangerous.

That was a problem for the near-future though. The current issue was one of the past.

My contact with this Admiral Keswen had been brief. Two very short conversations. The first had occurred when I attacked a small Paranid fleet in Montalaar, where the admiral commands a capital ship, a Colossus-class carrier, for defensive duties. I had asked him why he wasn't fighting against the Paranid when their military came through his sector, and he invited me aboard his ship to discuss it. And that was pretty much it.

The second conversation was probably where I made an enemy of him. I decided to make a run through some Argon sectors to increase our visibility, give people a chance to see us and, maybe, contact us. For whatever reason, I chose to start in Montalaar. Admiral Keswen hailed me immediately, and we exchanged some barbed comments. The conversation was cut short, however, when the Marine contingent aboard the carrier chose to defect by getting into life-pods and...disembarking. And now that I think of it, the resurgence of Paranid bounty hunter attacks had started just a few days later. Wonder how he knew who to talk to...

Someone might figure that out, someday. With what I had planned, there would be some inquiries into Admiral Keswen's activities. I can't imagine it ending well for him. Assuming the people I just sent the contract to did their jobs, anyway. I knew it was a cruel thing, and could endanger them. Not so long ago, I would have done so without a second thought. Worthy sacrifices and all that, for the good of All Families. But now...real and uninvolved individuals were being placed in harm's way. For a greater good, of course. I still had this twisting, sickened feeling in the pit of my stomach.

And that wasn't the last of my concerns either. I had another appointment to keep. But that could wait until tomorrow. I suspected that it would be a very long day.

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