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    Temples Of His Gods

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    Temples Of His Gods

    Post by JS on Mon Jan 09, 2017 7:10 am

    Master Thread for Temples Of His Gods
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    Re: Temples Of His Gods

    Post by JS on Mon Jan 09, 2017 7:11 am

    -Prologue-

    'For children aged 0-24 months'

    Archana sighed. If God had, as Outsystemer lore commonly held it, been playing a practical joke on humanity by making water so difficult to transport across the vast emptiness of space, then he had taken the joke too far in cursing Archana with a body allergic to its only known substitute - HydroSynth. Every colony is the Outsystem ran entirely on HydroSynth, yet Human evolution had still not caught up to this change; newborn Outsystemers required daily injections of nano-immunosuppressant to help their bodies adapt to using HydroSynth in place of water. For most, the treatment was only needed for the first two years of their life. There were, however, rare exceptions.

    Archana slid the needle into her upper arm, through the nanomesh weave of her form-fitting black undersuit. A cool rush ran through her body as it remembered, as it had eventually wound up doing so every day for the past twenty-one years of her life, how to deal with the substance that made up approxiately 60% of itself. She lazily tossed the packaging of the immunosuppressant to one side of her Zero-G living quarters - the sly, morally puritanical looking child emblazoned on the packaging coldly regarding her as she did - and pushed off the wall, floating out of her doorway into the dimly-lit octagonal service corridor beyond. Her dark-skinned hand wrapped around a plasteel microgravity assist rail, and she pushed herself upwards.

    Stealth Corvettes such as the Sergei Korolev were designed to run for extended periods of time without the use of their main reactors, and as such were engineered in ways which bypassed traditional energy expenditures; the bioluminescent anti-penetration gel membrane that  ran under the Korolev's tritanium outer hull provided illumination throughout the ship, the calming blue light sinking into the darkness of the ship's inner workings through quadruple-reinforced transparent aluminium panels, whilst the air replenishment systems were augmented by  genetically modified algae stored within the ship's aft overflow HydroSynth tank, able to maintain a healthy oxygen supply for a crew of thirty before the ship's mechanical oxygenerators had to be activated. The most disconcerting feature - at least, in Archana's mind - was that the ship lacked any sort of gravity drive, save for the centrifugal inner hull used to house the ship's medical bay. As such, the entire ship was claustrophobically compact, such that there was no one point on it where you could stand and be more than an arm's length away from a handrail or wall panel. Even for an Outsystemer who had spent most of her life in a closed-cylinder type space colony, it was a bit much for her.

    Pushing herself out into the Korolev's CIC, she turned, grabbing the rear of her command seat with one hand and pulling herself into it. As she strapped herself in, a small targeting locator originating from the right of the seat's headrest scanned over her neck, looking for her jugular artery. The human body could handle decent acceleration whilst in cryostasis, but outside of the coffin-esque cryopods the crew of the Korolev had spent the past three months in, the ship would need to be able to rapidly inject them with enough paralytic agents and muscle steroids to keep them in one piece if the Korolev suddenly found itself needing to speed up. Likewise, the nanomesh bands embedded around the abdomen and thighs of her bodysuit would need to rapidly constrict around her to prevent blood flowing away from her head.

    Still, the first rule of flying a spaceship was that you planned far enough ahead to prevent those sort of things happening.

    "What's our status?"

    Helmsman Kondo looked away from the panoramic observation display embedded around his flight seat, rotating to face Archana's seat, which was raised above the surrounding operations posts to afford her a better view of the entire CIC.

    "We're at Saturn, Captain." he replied, his tone low and monotone. He had never really liked Archana's plan - in partaking in it, he had not only thrown away a prospective transfer to the fleet flagship Valentina Tereshkova, but his entire military career with it. He raised a hand, embedded in a mechanical glove linked to his seat by various cables, and brought up a holographic projection of the surrounding area which expanded to fill the entire CIC - the Sergei Korolev was currently skimming underneath Saturn's rings to avoid unwanted detection, whilst a ship marked out as the Valerius Asiaticus slowly approached. Archana stroked her chin.

    "The Valerius Asiaticus..."

    "Flagship of the Outer Aegis Corporation's maritime patrol fleet. A converted gas miner sent to patrol regions of the inner territories considered too scary and dangerous for Roundtable to involve their precious Colonial Marines." interrupted Galess Q'han, sliding into the CIC from the rear access tunnel, and pulling himself down into his seat at the primary weapons station. The rough-skinned Dachori grinned as he jammed a syringe of cryogenic hypoxia preventative into his neck, before lowering his viewing periscope to eye level, synchronizing its visual output with the twin OverVision implants that took the place of his missing eyes. The syringe drifted lazily through the Zero-G environment of the CIC, before being flicked annoyedly away by Archana. "Capitalism at its finest. Even state defense is being privatized. 'Course, I suppose that suits Roundtable just fine; they can't very well use the Navy as a jobs program for their - otherwise useless - children, if there's a prospect of them actually being sent out to fight someone."

    "Well, if all goes to plan, Outer Aegis won't be fighting anyone today, either."

    "If all goes to plan." he replied, solemnly.

    The Sergei Korolev lifted up through the field of ice it had been drifting under, a shower of glittering ice particles following in its wake. The ship was pitch black in color, with a faceted, low-observability nanomesh composite hull, within which were hidden the ship's primary engines and weapons, ready to emerge at a moment's notice. It cut away from the ringfield like an obsidian arrowhead gliding towards the mobile fortress that was the Valerius Asiaticus. By Comparison, the Outer Aegis flagship was so intensely un-aerodynamic in appearance that it was likely most onlookers would've mistaken it for a space station; it resembled a vast oil rig, flanked on either side by two huge cylindrical hydrogen tanks which had been up-armored to a military standard. Rather than completely refitting it for its combat role, Outer Aegis had simply bolted on whatever combat equipment they needed on top of the existing structure; as such, a mass of piping, heavy-duting cabling, railing and scaffolding served to disguise stationary batteries of guided missilies, close-in railgun systems, autocannons and turbolasers. Torpedo tubes had been mounted facing in all six directions, the upper and lower arrays emerging from the busy industrial silhouette of the vessel like a quadruple arrangment of hexagonal smokestacks. Galess regarded the forward-facing array suspiciously as the two ships closed to visual range.

    "They're flying with their transponders off." noted Archana, pointing to the holographic projection suspended above the CIC.

    "Security contractors are allowed to, provided they've got the appropriate tax stamps. Plus, it's not like we're flying with ours on, either." replied comms officer Reed, who floated into the CIC, her skin still pale from the cryogenic freeze. Some people thawed better than others. She, too, injected herself with a dose of cryogenic hypoxia preventative, disposing of the syringe in the specifically designated receptacle of her workstation that Galess apparently wasn't aware existed.

    "We're insystem of the DMZ with Xenos onboard, anyway." replied Galess, smirking. "The sentence for that is death. I'd like to see Roundtable try and throw charges for transponder misuse on top of that."

    "I'd rather not." replied Reed, turning from the disposal receptacle and turning to the storage cabinet, pulling a pack of InstaCoffee from her within, and casually sucking from the straw attached to it. "Though it's probably no worse than what Sefer would do to us if we went back home."

    Sefer. The image of the Commonwealth's enigmatic leader rushed into her head, as a pang of homesickness caught her in the stomach. She would probably never see Neptunia again, nor the glimmering icefields of the Kuipler belt. They had betrayed the Commonwealth; deserted the millitary during a training excersize, stolen a prototype stealth warship, and snuck into enemy territory to liase with an officer of the Outer Aegis corporation. Realistically, it didn't make much difference to her whether the plan succeeded or not - she'd either be court-martialed and thrown in a military prison for the rest of her life, or thrown out into the cold vacuum of space and left to breathe deep.

    But in the Commonwealth of Outsystemer Republics, far from the inane realpolitik of Roundtable and the Earth Union they presided over, the term 'Greater Good' still held power - and it was still worth dying for.

    "Unidentified vessel." called out a voice which resonated throughout the CIC, the holographic projection of the Asiaticus flickering in resonance with the man's voice. "This is the Earth Union vessel Valerius Asiaticus, operating under patrol warrant OS-23225R. Please identify yourself and state your intentions."

    "I am Captain Archana Rai of the vessel Sergei Korolev. I am on a diplomatic mission, and require a video audience with your Captain."

    The CIC fell silent. Archana's throat froze up; a bead of sweat rolled down her forehead. Why are they asking who we were? They should've recieved our flight plans three months ago. An eternity passed, before the man's voice returned.

    "Understood, Korolev. Prepare for transmission of video feed."

    He appeared on the main viewscreen like a politician preparing to give an address; seated behind an oak desk, in an environment that seemed more like a twentieth-century author's study than any quarters one might to expect to find on a starship as crude and industrial as the Asiaticus. Artificial light filtered in through two faux windows either side of him, illuminating the pock-marked skin of his cheeks, and the graying strands of hair running through the sides of his short, sharply-styled hair. The heaviness of his brow, the mild squint in his right eye, and the way his thin lips curved at to one side gave him a fixed expression that was somewhere halfway between contempt and condescension, helped by the slight crook of his aqualine nose. He was dressed in a white shirt with a black tie, under a black neoprene officer's blazer, its mandarin collar decorated with the command pips of his rank. Framed on the wall behind him was a painting so majestic is might have been mistaken for an original from classical antiquitiy; but in truth, it was a depiction of an event seared into the minds of all Systemers - In- or Out- - who had been old enough to remember the war of independence.

    The Nin'neveh Al'q Ranmas - the Dachori Ark-Ship that had brought the Riders, as well as the survivors of their protectorate races, to the Sol System to seek refuge - was shown sinking into the upper atmosphere of Saturn, purple plasma trailing from its starboard hull. Over a billion souls had perished aboard the immense Ark-Ship, which had been mistaken by the Earth Union for being a Colonial Republican Army Super-Dreadnought.

    And Edward Allman sat, smiling, with a painting of the event framed behind him.

    "That's certainly an interesting choice of painting, Captain." said Archana, restraining the current of anger rising up within her. In the periphery of her vision, she could see Galess's turn his view away from the painting, back to his station. She could only hope that it wasn't to lock the Korolev's weapons onto Allman's location.

    "I've always liked the colours, you know - the orange and the purple, They create a very... visually pleasing contrast." he replied, smirking. The damn bastard had that answer prepared. This is all just a game to him.

    "It's certainly a beautiful painting. But the subject matter would probably put me off openly displaying it."

    "What can I say?" replied Allman, clasping his leather-clad hands together and leaning forwards slightly, resting his elbows on the edges of his desk. "I favour a hardline stance on illegal immigration. I like to make that known to the people I do business with. I hardly got this far in Outer Aegis by being a fervent advocate of open borders, now, did I?"

    "I'd still argue blowing up colony ships quantifies as a disproportionate response."

    "Yet 'colony ships' don't usually come Insystem with an intention of leaving afterwards."

    Across the vastness of space, technologically shortened by an array of holographic communications equipment, nano-encrypted tight-beam laser network pathways, and AI-guided live translation systems, Archana and Allman locked eyes; the junior naval officer with delusions of messianic grandeur facing up against a man of such political spirit that he considered an appointment to the Round Table to be beneath him; a man who was only entertained by political intrigues on such a scale that they could affect the entire balance of power in the system.

    I suppose this really is all just a game to him, thought Archana. But it's not like I'm any better.

    Allman chuckled, leaning backwards. "Well, Captain Rai, I was worried you'd be a pushover, but I think you and I speak a common language. I'm prepared to honor my side of the agreement."

    "I'm grateful."

    "But I just have one question." he replied, leaning backwards this time and folding his legs, turning so that he faced the camera feed at an angle. "Whatever you're going to broadcast when you get to Titan - whatever vast secret you think you've uncovered that's going to bring down the Earth Union, or usher in an age of universal reconciliation - the contents of that broadcast are what I'm staking my future on. I'm at the point, now, where proceeding any further in this scheme puts me beyond the point of no return. The second I flag you on the SPS as a damaged freigther being towed by the Asiaticus is the second I start lying to the Earth Union, which is treason. So my question is; what are you going to tell the Insystem? I want to hear it."

    "I'll broad-"

    "From you. No pre-recorded speech, no fancily edited kino - I want to hear the truth from your lips."
    Archana looked around the bridge; the eyes of her crew were turned to her. She had rehearsed it, sure - but Allman had now thrust the requirement of a private performance upon her with no time to prepare. Her gaze met Galess; he gave a reassuring nod, his mandibles tensing. Archana bit her lip.

    "Very well."

    She stood up, straightening her back.

    "The Earth Union has, since first contact, maintained a strict policy of bio-segretation which has not been challenged or overturned. This policy is founded on the belief that Human-Xenos coexistence is fundamentally impossible, because of the potential of microorganisms from one race to infect another with deadly consequence. Indeed, this belief was commonly held by many scientists before first contact, and dictated much of the early protocol and doctrine used during Humanity's first encounters with the Dachori and their protectorate races.

    But, this belief is founded on what we now know to be a falsehood. The Dachori planned for the possibility - no, certainty - of encountering other races during their long voyage, and developed an advanced vaccine which has allowed them to not only coexist with the other races they have rescued from the stellar collapse phenomenon, but now with the Human population of the Commonwealth of Outsystemer Republics. The existence of this vaccine has been intentionally censored by covert elements of the Earth Union administration, both through overt media control, and a campaign of continued social warfare to paint those with the knowledge of the vaccines existence as conspiracy theorists and anti-government terrorists. Furthermore, In a bid to strengthen their case for the Terran centralized government known as Roundtable, the media has been complicit in portraying the Commonwealth as a faction of biological terrorists who wish to annex the inner systems in a crusade of poltically-correct bio-integration, which would supposedly result in the death of the majority of the human population of the Earth Union. Such is the power of this media machine that the desires of the people of Ares and the Asteroid Belt for independence have been buried under a mass of government-sponsored hysteria and xenophobia. Even the Federal Republic of Bethany, which does not support bio-integration, has been incorrectly portrayed as doing so, in an attempt to cast them in a villainous light following their war of independence. "

    Archana paused. Allman had a smirk growing at the edges of his lips.

    "I must formally apologize on behalf of myself and my crew for illegally trespassing into the Earth Union, and for any inconvenience caused by our hijacking of this broadcast. Once we have delivered our message, we will surrender ourselves to the nearest Earth Union official, and we intend to unconditionally accept any and all punishment your justice system deems fit for our actions. I must also clarify that we are a rogue element of the Commonwealth of Outsystemer Republics, and are not on a state-santioned mission, nor do we have any congressional support or endorsement. Our views merely reflect those of a group tired of the baseless oppression of sapient life, and of the political machinations that serve to enforce this false equilibrium. Citizens of the Earth Union, I ask that you-"

    At this point, Allman was laughing. Archana paused, raising an eyebrow - a pang of tension sounded throughout the Korolev's CIC. Galess sat on the edge of his seat, ready to pounce on the firing controls at a moment's notice.

    "Have I said something funny, Captain?"

    "No, not at all." replied Allman, wiping tears from his eyes with the side of his hand. "In fact, quite the opposite. It's a moving speech; it's just... I think there's been a misunderstanding."

    Archana folded her arms.

    "Enlighten me."

    "Well, it's... it's just that we don't share your values. We don't want to coexist with you, nor do we want to coexist with Xenos - we like our blue and pure earth the way it is, and we like our languages and our cultures the way they are. That's how countries work, you see - they're groups of people who unite together over a common geographical location, and with a common set of shared values."

    "That's only because you've been fed a culture of fear-"

    Allman broke out into laughter again. "Oh, my god. You really don't have a clue, do you? Let me spell it out for you, then;" he said, collecting himself and looking back to the camera, a whimsical look on his face. "We know the vaccine exists."

    Archana's eyes shot open; Allman continued.

    "We all know on some level or another. For the higher ups, those in power - we've read the intelligence reports. We know it's a certainty. For everyone else... it's a feeling, an unspoken truth. We don't talk about it, we don't make formal mention of its existence, and if children ask if there is one, we say no. But we're all complicit in the lie - that there is no vaccine, that bio-integration is a scientific impossibility - because it makes us feel better about ourselves. It's a good lie, you see. It makes us feel like we're not enforcing segregation for reasons of racism or xenophobia - it makes us feel like we're still the good guys, that we're still on the right side of history. Or rather, it makes them - the people - feel like they're still on the right side of history. You tell them that, they'll let you do anything - start wars, pass surveillance acts, indefinitely detain suspected bio-terrorists and integrationists without trial, et cetera, et cetera - because the alternative, Archana, is the possibility that they might have to confront the truth of the situation, which is that they're wrong."

    "You're hiding the truth from them. Deliberately obfuscating it."

    "I'm selling them a better truth." replied Allman, grinning. "And it's not one they're in any particular rush to haggle the price down for. Call it a mutually beneficial relationship."

    Archana sat down in her command seat, crestfallen. Allman leaned back, smirking. The crew of the Korolev looked to Archana for instruction, but recieved no reply. The two ships hung in silence for what seemed like at eternity; only the faint beeping of the Korolev's long-distance radar filled the airwaves. At that moment, Archana looked up, her expression resolute.

    "Are you still willing to escort us to the relay station on Titan?"

    Allman looked baffled. "Have my words fallen on deaf ears?"

    Archana grinned; the rest of the crew quickly figured out what was going on. "Not at all, Captain Allman. But I would like to broadcast my message regardless."

    "There's no point; it won't do anything. I'm aborting this conspiracy, Captain Rai - You and your men should return to the Commonwealth immediately. Sefer will judge you not half as harshly as our legal system will."

    "That's funny you should say that, Captain. Earlier, you were all for our plan - I can only imagine that you wanted to scare the populace into realizing easy it was for the Commonwealth to get through the DMZ, and to rake up a few defense contracts in the resulting chaos - but now that you've actually heard what I have to say, you don't want us to broadcast it at all?" replied Archana, steepling her hands. Allman's brow furrowed. "I did my research, Edward - I know how many different pies you've got your fingers in. Men like you are the reason the Commonwealth was structured to prevent a millitary-industrial complex forming - the reason we escaped to the edges of the galaxy to create new worlds where our old ones had failed."

    "You're a veritable Smedley Butler, Archana Rai."

    "I'll take that as a compliment. But this all makes me think our broadcast's maybe not as useless and self-evident as you're trying to make it out to be; that maybe you're not being entirely honest about how fully the population buys into your little illusion."

    Allman leaned forwards, any hint of humor or human expression disappearing from his aged face.

    "You should've left your self-serving explanation of our little conspiracy until after you'd broadcast the message, girl."

    Archana leaned forwards in kind, smirking.

    "I did."

    Allman's face froze. He pulled up a holographic display, showing one of the Korolev's long-distance communication probes shooting away from Saturn's orbit - it was already nearly five minutes out. He looked back to Archana, who shrugged, grinning smugly.

    "You little bi-"

    "Lock all weapons on the Asiaticus. Fire at will."

    There was no room for maneuver; no time to adjust. If most ship-to-ship battles were two snipers taking explosive potshots at eachother, leading their targets enough to accomodate for minutes worth of projectile travel and target movement, then this was those same two snipers standing a doorway's distance apart and swinging at eachother with hammers. A staccato blast of nuclear torpedos briefly lit up the front of the Korolev as they ignited their secondary boosters, rapidly accelerating into the field of close-in autocannon fire put up by the Asiaticus. Three thermonuclear blasts lit up the narrow boundary of space between the two ships as a trio of torpedoes were shot down short of their target; all it took was for the fourth torpedo to impact one of the Asiaticus's huge hydrogen containers to seal the fate of the battle. The Korolev's viewscreen pre-emptiely polarized as the Asiaticus burst into a nuclear fireball, the corvette's lights dimming as power was channeled into the magnetic repulsor field, flinging incoming debris away from the ship.

    The Valerius Asiaticus hadn't even had the chance to return fire.

    "What's our status?" asked Archana, a bead of sweat rolling down her neck, which she wiped away with the back of her hand.

    "Still floating." replied Galess, stunned.

    "I suppose we'd better-"

    Archana was cut short as the Korolev''s proximity radar let out a legato slurry of frenzied warning tones.

    It swooped out from the fireball of the Asiaticus like a vast predatory bird; its hull unfurling like a pair of wings, a firefly swarm of nuclear pulse missiles falling away from it and shooting towards the Korolev. This time, the Korolev's power completely cut out, funneling enough energy into the magnetic repulsor field to suspend the missiles half a kilometre out from the stealth corvette's hull, at which point they detonated. The Korolev spun away, smoke and debris trailing from her ruptured hull, as power was restored inside, the ship's alarm sirens blaring. The attacker turned - not fighting from a leisurely trajectory like most battleships, but dancing and turning through the expanse of space like some vastly over-sized fighter jet - and unleashed another barrage of hive nukes, which accelerated towards the Korolev.

    "What is that thing?" replied Archana, as the ship's power cut out again. This time, the magnetic repuslor field didn't hold, and a score of missiles impacted the hull of the Korolev, blowing her leftside fusion engine clear off. The ship spun out of control, back towards the icefields of Saturn's rings down below. "Return fire!"

    "Sanhedrin Drive Yards - registration YF-230001A." replied Comms officer Reed, as part of the CIC's ceiling exploded, sparks showering into the bridge below. "Prototype variable-geometry stealth attack vessel... It's the Blackout."

    The Blackout turned round for a final pass, chasing the Korolev on its uncontrolled descent down towards the icefields, debris trailing from the burning vessel. The vessel resembled an atmospheric fighter in shape, if vastly upsized such that it rivalled the Korolev in terms of displacement, and with two oversized engines running from the wingroot to the rear of the vessel, generating a distinctive green glow. She danced between the barrages of autocannon fire directed at it by the Korolev as it closed in, the ship's front opening up like the mandibles of some vast predatory insect, a violently pulsating green light shining out from within.

    All this Archana saw from within the collapsing CIC of the Korolev, its viewscreen flickering in and out of action as the ship's sole remaining reactor struggled to compensate. She looked around at her crew; Kondo had been either knocked out or killed a fallen roof support, and Reed was looking around for orders, a panicked expression on her face. Only Galess remained focused, taking manual control of the ship's remaining autocannons in a desperate attempt to shoot down the Blackout.

    "Don't worry, Archana." replied Galess, biting his bottom lip as he focused intently on his screen, his hands tightly gripping the twin joysticks he used to control the ships' weaponry. "You know how these things go. 'Then out spake brave Horatius, The Captain of the Gate.'"

    Archana smirked. You finally bothered to remember it. She keyed in a combination into the comms panel on her seat, giving the order to evacuate, and bringing up a pair of flight control joysticks for herself to use. Reed regained her composure, turning back to her station and preparing an emergency long-distance communications probe to send word back to the Commonwealth.

    "'To every man upon this earth, Death cometh soon or late.'" continued Archana, turning the ship around and pointing it towards the Blackout, initiating a full burn of her rear thrusters. She was pushed hard into the back of her seat by the deceleration, gritting her teeth; the ship's life support systems had been taken out, so she had to bear the force of the deceleration without any stimulants in her body. Reed slumped down in her chair, unconscious. The Korolev closed in on the Blackout as Galess dispensed the corvette's entire arsenal of nuclear torpedoes towards her target. The Blackout's maw-mounted laser exploded into action, slicing individually through each approaching missile before cutting partway into the hull of the Korolev. Archana brought up the self-destruct command as the Blackout closed in, its maw laser swinging around to target the bridge.

    Galess gritted his mandibles, channeling all power to the forward magnetic repulsor field. "'And how can man die better, Than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers-'"

    Archana thumbed the final self-destruct command.

    "'And the temples of his Gods.'"
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    JS
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    Re: Temples Of His Gods

    Post by JS on Mon Jan 09, 2017 7:13 am

    -Chapter One-

    Two Weeks Later

    Capernaum Naval Base, Terra Sabaea, Ares

    (Formerly known as Mars)


    "Tā mā de. I can't do this."

    "Why the heck not?"

    "I-"

    "Is it the Redeemer? Is she killing the mood?"

    Nadle sighed, pushing himself up, off of Lena, and climbing back to his feet. He nervously stroked his chin, looking to the hangar door, then back to Lena, then to the hangar door, then to the twin-engined stratospheric F-37 Redeemer assault interceptor the two had been laying under, then back to Lena. The olive-skinned fighter ace looked back at him, and shrugged.

    Nadle buried his brow in the palm of his hand, before sliding it back across his wavy black hair, to the small ponytail he had tied it up in at the back. Nathaniel Adel and Ishikawa Lena were both Aresians; their ethnicity was that of an entire Terra's worth of minorites forced into astro-diaspora and left to merge into one flesh. Nadle could, perhaps, have passed for a Terran from the USAN Bloc; his olive-colored skin, coarse, dark hair, and dark brown eyes might've placed him somewhere near the upper border with the North Atlantic Territories, even if his accent placed him squarely in the deep south of the African Union, where most of Ares's original settlers hailed from. By contrast, Lena couldn't have been placed on any other habitable settlement in the system; she had the ice-white hair of all Martian purebloods - a biological mutation passed down through the descendents of the original Martian settlers, caused by the early 22nd century's primitive radiation biomods  - and a disposition as combative and warlike as the God her homeworld had been named for. Her shoulder length hair was pulled into a half-updo, with two strands framing the side of her face; where her hair had been tied at the back, it had been tied with a ribbon the same shade of icy blue as her deep-set eyes. She stood up, zipping her pilot suit back up, and dusted herself off.

    "We could get caught."

    "That's half the fun." said Lena, smirking, as she slid her collared ADF bomber jacket from the missile hardpoint it had been hung on, and pulled it over her shoulders. Nadle looked scornfully towards her, adjusting one of his cufflinks.

    "The last thing Primarch Howard needs is a scandal on his hands. The ADF's existence is controversial enough as it is - if one of his staffers-"

    "Cut it with the fèihuà, Adel."

    Nadle paused. Lena stood across from him, leaning against the side of the Redeemer, her arms folded. She sighed, her expression changing from bemusement to annoyance, as she turned to look towards the end of the hangar and the desert landscape of Ares visible beyond. The rising sun cast a warm glow over her body.

    "I keep trying, and you keep putting me off. And right now I'm starting to feel like there's something wrong with me that nobody's had the heart to point out yet."

    "That's not the case at all, Lena. It couldn't be further from the truth."

    "Then what is the truth?"

    Nadle paused. A gut feeling. He could be honest and tell her. I'm not ready. He could lie. I don't want to. He wasn't a good enough liar to get away with that last one. In truth, Nadle didn't have it in him to lie or even knowingly obfuscate; he was a man who never struggled with knowing right from wrong, but always struggled with doing anything his conscience rallied against - especially when he was doing it to Lena. He ran his hand up to the cross hanging around his neck, running it gently through his fingers, his thumb orieting on the soft bevel where the two lengths of metal met. It was warm.

    Lena let out a sigh of relief, stepping forwards from the Redeemer. "I can see by your reaction that you have as much of an idea as I do." she said, before walking towards her locker and pulling it open. She took out her handgun, which she had left in the pocket of another one of her jackets, and a small data storage unit, both of which she secured in the waist harness attached to her pilot suit; the suit itself featured no storage compartments, owing to its form-fitting design.

    "It's Klak." interjected Nadle.

    "Klak?"

    "Klak."

    "In case you've forgotten, Nadle, Klak's dead. Has been for a long time."

    "And yet there's a part of me that still refuses to believe that." replied Nadle, stepping forwards. "A part of me that thinks I'm going to wake up one day, and it'll all be back to normal - you back in his arms instead of mine, and me-"

    "Well, It won't."

    Nadle paused. Lena bowed her head.

    "Klak's dead. That's the reality of the situation. We don't have to forget him, nor do we have to pretend he never existed - but we do have to move on. If you-"

    She sighed, crouching down and digging about in the base of her locker.

    "-If you don't want to be with me, then that's that. But if you're worried that I'm still 'your best friend's girlfriend', and that in sleeping with me you're somehow betraying his memory, then that's something you need to work out for yourself." she added, pulling out a spare magazine and slotting it into its alloted compartment at the front of her pistol holster. A faint smile formed on her face, lightening the mood in the hangar.  "But I can wait. If you wake up one day and realize you're ready, I'll be here. And if that day never comes... I suppose I'll be here anyway." she said, looking up to him.

    Nadle looked dumbstruck. Lena's arguments were like her punches; by the time you realized you were about to be involved in one, there was usually precious little you could do to avoid it. This hadn't been one of those times.

    "Xièxiè."

    She blushed, turning back to her locker. "It's a bit too late to start xièxiè-ing me now, idiot." she said, before walking towards the exit, raising an open palm to the air as a parting gesture. "I've got business in the Astroport. You know the way out."

    "Stay safe."

    She turned to look at him through the doorway.

    "You're not the one who should be saying that."

    The sun had reached its apex by the time Lena arrived at the vast favela that was the Terra Sabaea Astroport, and a sonic battle was underway between the adhans of the local mosques, calling their followers to prayer, and the uproarious humanity piling through the favela's web of dirt roads and dirtier alleyways. There was no black market in the Astroport, for the Astroport was black market unto itself; far from the watchful eyes of the Earth Union, traders openly sold weapons, contraband biomods, and all variety of drugs openly, along with anything else that fell into the category of being 'technically legitimate, but not legitimate enough to be taken to the Terra Meridani Astroport instead'. The air smelled of a thousand different cuisines, if half of those cuisines used animal feces as their primary ingredient, which admittedly wasn't too farfetched a concept for Terra Sabaea.

    At the centre of the Astroport lay the entrance to Alighieri, the aptly-nicknamed nine-chamber subterranean habitat that had once sheltered Terra Sabaea's first settlers from the decade-long Terraforming Storms, as well as the poisonous, radioactive atmosphere left in their immediate wake. Having outlived its original purpose, Aligheiri had now earned itself a reputation as one of the more unsavoury places on Ares; unsavoury enough to warrant specific distinction from Terra Sabaea itself, which was hardly a pleasant place anyway. The entrance was a great maw hewn from the ground itself, approximately one-hundred metres in diameter, with twenty-or-so metres of carved stone stairway leading down to the upper ceiling of the habitat, which had long since lost the gargantuan cog-shaped vault door that had sealed it shut. Beyond that, Alighieri expanded out into the underground cavern system it had been built inside, and traversing it became considerably easier.

    Seven circles of hell and one crowded monorail journey later, Lena found herself at her destination.

    "We're closed."

    Swain was built like a bull and had a disposition (and IQ) to match; a towering giant of a man with long, ice-white hair pulled into a militaristic top-knot, dressed in a pair of loose-fitting cargo pants and a tight white vest which revealed the Aresian tattoos running over the majority of his body. He towered over Lena much in the same way a small dog is towered over by the long-distance hauler that ends up flattening it.

    "Swain, you're not closed. I can see people entering and leaving."

    "For you."

    "What?"

    "We're closed for you."

    "That's not how you structure a sentence, Swain. Look, I need to speak to Ciro - she asked me for some data. It's... not exactly legal for me to be sharing this with anyone outside the ADF."

    Swain regarded her coldly, before sighing, and stepping aside.

    "Fine. But if you start anything-"

    "Relax." interrupted Lena, stepping past him and into the club. "I'm barely even drunk."

    The many clubs and cantinas of Alighieri were the closest thing Terra Sabaea had to palaces; Ciro Madigan's Chaos Theorem was no exception. The vast amounts of criminal money flowing through it had allows its matriarch to transform it from a disused industrial quarter of the old habitat, to a modern mix of black glass, blacker steel and glowing neon hardlight panels, all arranged to create six hexagonal chambers conjoined by a seventh in the middle where Ciro's throne sat. Each chamber had roughly the surface area of half a football pitch; Ciro's personal dais claimed a smaller fraction of that space, rising high up around the rest of the central chamber - separated from it by a chasm which ran around it like a moat, rendering it only accessible by roped-off walkways, guarded at all times.

    Unintelligble bass wafted through the complex as Lena made her way towards the dais, accosted all the while by the throng of Chaos Theorem's inhabitants - a mixture of Ares's own seedier elements, as well as homesick spacenoids who found the club's claustrophobic nature reassuring. The latter could be told apart by their posture; tall and lanky from decades growing up without any gravity overhead, now hunched over in discomfort due to Ares's gravitational pull. Bone- and muscle-stimulant drugs were freely available throughout the Earth Union - but only to registered citizens, and the majority of the occupants of Chaos Theorem were the sort who wanted to remain off the grid as much as possible.

    A silver-haired Asian man stood to one side of the walkway leading to Ciro's dais, and pulled the rope open as Lena closed in. She made her way up the steps to her personal platform; situated high above with a view of the entire complex, a circular sofa running the entire outer edge of it, with a hexagonal glass table positioned in the center. Ciro herself was sat behind a holographic display projected from the table; as Lena walked around it, the matriarch came into her view. She sat cross-legged, wearing a loose-fitting black jumpsuit secured at the shoulder with a golden broach displaying the emblem of House Madigan; a side-profile of a Trojan helmet, through which ran the thorny stem of a rose, the leaves of which formed the field of the emblem. A circular band ran between the tips of the leaves, displaying the words of House Madigan - LIVE FAST DIE YOUNG BAD GIRLS DO IT WELL - but few other than Ciro could decipher it, as English was an uncommon language on Ares. Of the woman herself, Ciro possessed pale skin, raven-black hair pulled over to one side, and a mature beauty to her that seemed at odds with the absence of any wrinkles on her face; her true age was one of Terra Sabaea's great mysteries. She wore a pair of tinted, gold-rimmed aviators, and sat smoking from a thin cigarette holder.

    "Ciro, I-"

    "-Lena." she replied, in her trademark irish accent. "I love the tits off you. But if you keep interrupting me whilst I'm doing business, I'll have Swain kneecap you. Dong ma?"

    Business?

    Lena looked across from Ciro. He was sat across from her, eery in his silence and stillness; a man of a stocky build, dressed in a white suit, the shirt of which was fastened with a Texan-style necktie. Over this he wore an untied black scarf draped over his shoulders, and a long charcoal grey trenchoat which trailed to the floor. He wore a white stetson upon his head, decorated with a band of black silk; that same color silk decorated the lapels of his blazer and the collar of his shirt. He had bushy, unkept grey hair and a fierce, wild beard, though most of his face was buried in the shadow of his hat. She could make out two ice-grey eyes - hard, like chips of flint - whenever the light of his cigar got bright enough.  

    "Apologies, Ciro. I didn't realize you were in a meeting. I can-"

    "Don't matter none." interrupted the man, in a thick Texan accent. "-Matter of fact, Miss Madigan and I was just finishin' up, anyways."

    Ciro smiled slyly, looking from her guest to Lena. "Salem and I were just discussing a transaction of arms, Lena. I was seeing if we couldn't get some fancier toys for the ADF - those Mk. 108s are starting to show their age."

    "The Mk. 108 is a perfectly reliable battle rifle." replied Lena, sitting down. She reached forwards, keying a few commands into the touch-sensitive surface of the glass table; a few seconds later, a port opened , and a small glass of Andartan Ale slid up through it.

    "They's leftovers. The Earth Union stopped using them a century ago."

    "The Earth Union stopped using gendered pronouns a century ago." replied Lena, tossing the drink back. "So let's not start using 'not good enough for Roundtable' as a selling point. Chemical-fired rifles are just as accurate as those fancy lasers Terra's so obsessed with, and they don't jam up the second you take them out of a sterile labratory environment, either. And anyway-"

    She keyed the table for another drink, before looking to Salem.

    "-I don't know what Ciro's been telling you, Mr Salem, but if you want to speak to ADF procurement, you'll want to head to Fort Capernaum. The revolution went legit a long while back - we aren't a bunch of terrorists anymore."

    "Yet the EU stages an illegal incursion into our territory-" replied Ciro, snatching the drink away from Lena as it appeared, "-and ain't bringing the evidence to your CO. You're bringing it to me. A terrorist."

    Lena frowned, folding her arms. "This goes high up, Ciro. Our hands are tied; that's why we need you."

    "Most puppets find their hands tied at one point or another." replied Ciro, downing Lena's drink. She leaned over, pulling one of the pouches on Lena's harness open, and retrieving the datachip from within. She slid into a port on the table, before leaning backwards.  The display that appeared from the table was the feed of a Redeemer's guidance camera - taken from Lena's personal machine. The visual quality was quite low, but the trio could clearly make out a small encampment built up around a meteorite crater, somewhere in the vast expanse of desert surrounding Terra Sabaea.

    "It's a black site."

    "I nearly got shot down taking this."

    "'Nearly' being the operative term." replied Ciro, callously. She leaned in, curiously. "And they ain't told anyone in the ADF what they're doing there?"

    "They haven't even formally told us they're there. No-one in Howard's administration was made aware, either. If I hadn't been sent to check up on the meteorite impact after it pinged on the orbital network..."

    "...they'd have been completely invisible. That must be one hell of a meteorite, if they're going through all this effort to retrieve it.
    "
    Lena got up to leave. "I don't always agree with the IRA, Ciro, but for once I think we're on the same page. The EU is pissing on our sovereignity. You don't have to be a seperatist to see that."

    "Wow. A tip-off from Lena Ishikawa that doesn't involve a monologue about the virtues of non-violent resistance - I almost feel honoured."

    Lena smirked. She was about to reply, when an all-too familiar sound caught her attention; polymer scraping against polymer, and the faint whir of an electromagnetic motor spooling up. She ran towards Ciro, jumping onto her and pushing her to the ground - the explosion came seconds afterwards, shattering every inch of glass on the dais and sending it raining down towards its occupants. Lena's ears were ringing, but she already knew what she'd hear when that sense returned - stacatto bursts of gunfire, the panicked screams of the nightclub's occupants, and the tell-tale clink of a Teslabolter's charging handle being drawn backwards. She slid her Décima out of its holster, racking the slide back, and listened.

    Clink.

    She burst out of cover. The assassin was where his reload had betrayed him to be; concealed within one of the hexagonal booths lining the outside wall of the chamber. He hurriedly tried to load a second slug into his weapon, but to no avail; Lena centred her iron sights on the man's chest and calmly squeezed the trigger, once, twice, three times until she saw him fall backwards, a cloud of red mist emerging from his torso. Gunfire came in towards Lena - she ducked back down behind the Sofa that encircled Ciro's table, thumbing back the hammer on her Décima.

    "He's not alone."

    "You were tailed. You absolute bloody amateur." replied Ciro, pulling a long-barrelled Weiss & Whiteman Submachine-pistol from a secret drinks stash located under her seat. Swain burst into the room, a belt-fed HS-Accelerator pushed to his shoulder. He opened up into the attackers, cobalt bursts of light spewing forth from the end of the weapon's barrel as he tore into them, molten blood spraying out and across the entire chamber. Salem sat calmly, smoking his cigar, until a stray round tore through his stetson; he pulled the hat from his head, nonchalantly inspecting it.

    "Well, shit."

    He stood up, drawing a subcompact battle rifle from under his longcoat, and opened up into the assailants; Ciro and Lena took the opportunity to join him, pushing the attackers out of the central chamber and into the entranceway. Salem remained expressionless as he slid a second clip into his rifle, taking cover behind one of the pillars connecting the dais to the ceiling of the cavern. He burst out of cover, firing one; his off hand slid upwards as he dispensed a trio of micro wrist-rockets into the lighting arrangement above, dropping the scaffolding down onto the attackers below. They cried out as the tritanium lighting array crushed them, and Salem grinned, turning to face the central antechamber.

    "'Teach you to mess with a Diamond Dog." he added, as a detachment of black-armored soldiers poured in through the main entrance, taking up positions within the antechamber.

    "Tā mā fucking de, if it isn't the Invisiory Comission." said Lena, sliding a fresh magazine into her Décima. "I've got a feeling these sicarios are actually plainclothes black ops."

    "Who else knows about the datachip?"

    "No-one. Not even Nadle."

    Ciro frowned, jumping over the sofa, and making her way towards the edge of the dais, trading fire with the assassins and the invisiory commissioners that had arrived to reinforce them. She crouched down, pulling open a panel on the floor, and gestured for Lena to follow.

    "The tunnel leads to the old city. Find Stone - he'll know what to do with the datachip."

    Lena slid into the tunnel, closing the hatch behind her. She could still hear the sounds of muffled gunfire through it, though she wasn't particularly worried for Ciro's safety; partially because she didn't like her that much, but mainly because the EU would turn all of Terra Sabaea against them by making an overt assassination attempt against such a beloved public figure. They would, no doubt, try to spin the incident as a criminal deal gone wrong. Ciro Madigan was a savvy individual; she had written the book on such politics - or, at least, translated that book into Aresian.

    At the bottom of the ladder, after nearly twenty minutes of climbing, Lena found herself in the old city - the very bottom layer of Alighieri that most saw no point in visiting. The cave system was dimly lit by rows of flickering illumination strips that had been bolted into the ceiling, only half of which still worked; below, the stagnant pool of 'water' that had formed over the years was nearly at knee height. Lena found a rock to sit on, and caught her breath. Screw Robert Stone, she thought, pulling the magazine from her Décima and sliding fresh rounds into it. If they were tailing me, they might go after Nadle. He needs to be my first priority.

    She got up, and made her way through the caverns. Prefabs built into the walls were all that remained of the civilization that had once sought shelter down here - most of them were re-purposed segments of colony ships designed to be torn apart and used in the initial stages of off-world colony construction. Now those prefabs were completely uninhabitable; deserted, stripped for components, and most of them caved in. The sight of them still sent a nostalgic pang through her chest; memories of a time when, as kids, Nadle, Klak and her had ventured down into the depths to fight the evil Commonwealth, or the Earth Union, or the Galactic Empire - whichever costumes Bob or Shen Trano had laying around. It seemed funny, in hindsight, that of all his elite villainous minions, Emperor Shingen had only ever seen fit to dispatch a mildly overweight Aresian kid, and his stuttering Japanese cohort, to invade Ares and claim it for the Commonwealth. Turning into the central railway tunnel leading towards Terra Meridani, she remembered how the Thousand Swords Empire had been defeated when Nadle unleashed the secret technique known as 'The Floor Is Now Lava'.

    And then the taser baton hit her. She fell, gasping, landing face-forwards in the water; spluttering for breath, she turned onto her back, and delivering a double legged kick into the torso of her assailant, sending him flying. She briefly caught a glimpse of two glowing green eyes; drawing the Décima up, she loosed a pair of shots towards them, but the attacker had already relocated. Active camo. She watched the water; his footsteps betrayed his location, as he charged in towards her, stun baton at the ready. Lena rolled towards him, under the swing of his baton, and tripped him up, his face impacted the submerged railway with a sickening crack. She turned over, pulling the man out of the water, and pressing him against the cavern wall, holding her Décima to his neck.

    "Who sent y-"

    She briefly caught a glimpse of the man's face through his cracked visor as a pulse of energy was emitted from his armor, stunning her again. She staggered backwards - the man retrieved a second stun baton from his thigh armor, this time in a tonfa configuration. He spun it, brutally whipping her in the face. Lena fell backwards again, this time landing on the submerged railway tracks; she fired her Décima wildly from the hip, but the man darted upwards, running across the ceiling of the cavern with obviously augmented agility. He landed behind her, pressing the muzzle of a suppressed, wrist-mounted execution pistol to her forehead; she presented him with the muzzle of her Décima in kind. The cavern fell silent, save for their hurried, panicked breathing, as they eyed eachother up.

    "You are under arr-"

    She fired. The man recoiled backwards, the faceplate of his helmet flying clean off; he stumbled, slipping in the water, and landed against the cavern wall with a disheartening crack. Lena groaned in pain, rolling onto her front and climbing back to her feet; the muzzle of her pistol remained focused on her assailant all the whilst.

    "I won't ask you again. Who the fuck sent y-"

    "Lena..." gasped the man, blood trickling from his mouth. A pang of fear took hold of her chest. How the fuck does he know my name?

    "Were you sent to kill me?"

    "It's you... isn't it?"

    The pang struck again. She walked towards him, crouching down. She held the muzzle to his face, grabbing hold of his fringe and pulling his head up to get a view. She froze.

    "You died."

    He let off a slight grin, revealing teeth stained red with blood; his entire face was battered and bruised, but there was no mistaking his identity, even after all this years. Olive skin, ice-white hair, and the closest thing to a 'posh' Aresian accent Lena had ever heard. She dropped the gun, shivering; her forehead found its ways to her palm as she eyed him in disbelief, tears welling in her eyes.

    "I'm sorry."

    "You're alive. You're working for the fucking Earth Union."

    "I'm sorry, Lena."

    She slid her knife from her harness, grabbing him by his collar and dragging him onto his back, holding the tip of the blade to his neck. She placed his weight upon him, pinning him to floor - not that he had enough strength in him to fight back anyway.

    "Tell me why I shouldn't slit your throat, right here and now. Give me one good fucking reason."

    Klak remained silent. Lena's reaction went from anger, to disbelief, and then she was crying again, burying her face in his chest, her knife still clenched tightly in her hand. He tried to reach an arm up to comfort her, but the strength had gone from his body. He looked across the cavern, eyeing his stun baton, but it was far beyond an arm's reach.

    "Everything I've done, Lena... I've done for you. For Nadle. For Ares. Progress can't always come from the barrel of a gun. Until Aresians start playing an active role within the Earth Union-"

    "-The second we let our oppressors dictate the terms by which we might reclaim the rights they stole from us, we spit on the memory of everyone who's ever died for the cause."

    "You're wearing an ADF uniform, Lena. The uniform of a puppet military set up to filter Ares's combative elements out of its population. We're no different."

    "We're completely different - at least I'm not working for the fucking Invisiory Commission." she said, pulling herself away from him. "But I guess it's admirable that you've learned to forgive them for killing your fucking mom."

    Her eyes met his, casting a hateful glare.

    And then she was on him. Her lips pressed to his; she ran a hand through his short-cropped hair, and then down to his neck, stroking the faint stubble of his jaw with her thumb. He limply pulled his arm up, resting it on the small of her back, running his gloved hand across the smooth material of her pilot suit, following the path of her spine upwards. For a minute, then two minutes, then three, they were lovers again. And then she pulled away suddenly, standing up, and retrieving her Décima from the murky depths of the water that puddled around their feet. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, before looking back to him.

    And then, they were anything but.

    "If I ever see you again, I'll kill you."

    She holstered her handgun and, turning, made her way down the disused tunnel, limping all the while. Klak pushed himself up against the wall, watching her silhouette fade into the shadow, until she was indistinguishable from it. He found himself alone, his blood seeping out into the surrounding water. His vision faded to black; he slumped, unconscious, into the water. The last thing he remembered hearing was a mass of hurried footsteps approaching.

    --

    Cast List:

    In order of appearance:
    Michael Douglas as Cpt. Edward Allman
    -
    Avan Jogia as Nadle
    Florence Faivre as Sgt. Lena Ishikawa
    Dave Bautista as Swain
    Eva Green as Ciro Madigan
    Jeff Bridges as 'Salem'
    Luke Pasqualino as 1st Lt. Christoffer Lake
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    JS
    Cruel Angel's Thesis
    Cruel Angel's Thesis

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    Re: Temples Of His Gods

    Post by JS on Fri Apr 07, 2017 9:24 am

    -

    The Story So Far:

    It is the far future. In the midst of a devastating civil war between the Earth Union and her outer colonies, who have formed the Commonwealth of Outsystemer Republics, Humanity makes a discovery that changes everything: they are not alone in the galaxy. Fleeing a phenomenon known only as 'Stellar Collapse', an ark-ship containing the last remnants of seven distinct alien races arrives in the galaxy. Before even half of its inhabitants can disembark, the ship is destroyed; billions of souls perish.

    Nearly a hundred years later, the Solar System enjoys an uneasy peace. The Commonwealth has incorporated the alien remnants into its society, becoming a multi-species nation; the Earth Union remains stalwart in its xenophobia, refusing to allow even a single non-human through the DMZ separating the two states.

    A stealth corvette commanded by Archana Rai, a rebellious Commonwealth officer, slips through the DMZ in a last-ditch effort to convince the Earth Union to abandon its xenophobic policies, which are built upon the false notion that the humans and non-humans cannot safely coexist due to their biological differences. Archana's efforts initially have the support of Edward Allman, a commander working for the Outer Aegis PMC, but the two later clash, resulting in the apparent destruction of both vessels and the deaths of all involved.

    Meanwhile, on Ares, a young woman named Lena Ishikawa delivers a secret information package to members of the Aresian resistance, who seek freedom from the Earth Union. A battle ensues when Earth Union forces attack the facility; Lena attempts to flee, but comes face to face with Klak, a childhood friend who she thought to be dead, but is instead now working for the Earth Union. The two fight. Lena wins.

    -

    -Chapter Two-

    EUNV Vengeance

    Flagship of the EUN's long-range tactical fleet 'Galahad'

    Orbit over Titan



    The last long-distance, ship-mounted laser in the EUN's standard arsenal had been phased out of active duty at the height of the Colonial War of Independence. Indeed, by that point the style of weaponry had become all but useless; so much nano-mirror chaff had been dispersed by the CRA during the war that, outside of the few remaining uncharted and uninhabited quadrants of space, firing a laser weapon through any area of space not pre-scrubbed by a ship's magnetic repulsor field was practically an invitation to have that blast reflected back at you. The CRA had practically won the war with the move; it closed the arms gap between the technologially superior EUN and the ramshackle CRA Navy by forcing the EUN to switch back to basic kinetic weaponry, which the CRA were already far more skilled an experienced with.

    Even in the present day, the majority of inhabited travel routes were still far too heavily clustered with nano-mirror chaff to make laser weaponry safe to use. But there were areas of space that had not been bombarded by chaff during the war, and there were still ships designed to fight in them.

    The Vengeance was one of them.

    It emerged from the shadow of Titan like a blade being slowly drawn from its sheath. She was a Vanguard-class supercarrier; one of the four built by the EU in the post-war period to fufill its need for a long-range, autonomous mobile fortress to bring the light of Roundtable's justice to the uncharted and, characteristically, uncivilized outer regions of their territory. Her armament included four banks of long-range lasers, a healthy compliment of long- and mid-range kinetic autocannons, missile tubes of both the offensive and defensive varieties, close-in autocannon and laser defence systems, and a mass accelerator cannon running through the length of the ship, capable of firing the ship's compliment of 50-megaton nuclear torpedoes at a rate of two a second. She was powered by a trio of Silsannisborg nuclear fission reactors, linked to the ship's four electrothermal superthrusters, and over 60% of her external surface area was linked directly to the ship's magnetic repulsor field, allowing it to deflect incoming projectiles and debris without having to realign the entire array.

    Furthermore, she was designed not only to maintain her 500-strong crew on the long-distance autonomous assignments given to her, but also the entirety of the Galahad fleet which accompanied her. As such, much of her mass was given away to advanced food production and reclamation facilities, medical centres, laboratories, workshops, recreational facilities and gyms; she also featured a courthouse and full detention facilities to act as an arm of Terra's justice wherever she travelled.

    One feature unique to the Vengeance was its observation deck; a unique room intended for command and control purposes, equipped with a full CIC-standard holo-suite and a quantum-linked two-way communicator, necessary for communicating with Earth in real-time. It was here the Vengeance's captain spent most of his days, trawling through reels of floating, holographic information reports, scheduling resupplies and transit routes, and engaging in the mind-numbing realpolitik that accompanied the role of naval captainship in the same way a morning hangover accompanied a night's drinking.

    de Mortier sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

    He dismissed the holographic display with a wave of his hand, plunging the room into darkness, save for what which pooled through the vast glass observation port that made up the floor of the room. He finished off what was left of the glass of whiskey on his desk, and made his way to the viewport, which expanded before him like some vast, hexagonal pool of water. The shimmering starlight faintly illuminated his aged face, casting shadows on the crow's feet that lined his eyes, and the creased parchment that was the skin of his cheeks. By all accounts he was a handsome man; not beautiful, but handsome. He had a tall face, two ice-blue eyes set deep underneath an intense brow, and a long forehead giving way to a pronounced widow's peak. His light blonde hair had been flecked with silver, and was kept only an inch or so longer than the thin stubble that covered the lower half of his face, obscuring the sharpness of his pronounced jaw. He wore a Naval Captain's uniform; a white double-breasted tailcoat embroidered with gold thread and buttons, with matching epaulettes, and a tall, stiff collar featuring Mortier's golden command pips and an ornate golden-threaded trim. The collar was open to reveal a short, neatly tied dark red silk scarf tucked into his jacket, over which he wore a short red cloak that fully covered one half of his torso, held in place by a golden clasp emblazoned with the sigil of Roundtable.

    The fact that the uniforms only got more complicated from there on was half the reason de Mortier had never accepted a promotion to the Admiralty.

    He made a piching gesture with his hand, raising it, summoning the holographic display back. He brought up the two timelines of the incident; the one recorded by the Solar Positioning System, and the one recovered from the Asiaticus's onboard flight recorder. He overlaid them; there were no discrepancies. He scrolled backwards; minutes, then hours, then days, drawing up the ship's inventory logs at every resupply, and scanning every item on them for SPS incident reports. There were none. Nothing on board the ship should've exploded; she held no volatile cargo, her nukes were five decades too modern for there to even be a possibility of unintentional detonation, and her reactor was a Velannisborg pattern, equipped with four seperate failsafe mechanisms to prevent anything resembling nuclear runaway. A bead of sweat rolled down his forehead. He threw the inventory reports to one side, bringing up the ship's radar and sonar logs - he then threw the radar away, and drew up the ship's computer core logs. Nothing. No self-destruct, no evacuation order, no fire commands, no records of any communications. The maintenance logs showed her as being in better shape than the Vengeance - for all their cost-cutting ingenuinity in retrofitting a retired gas miner to serve as their flagship, Outer Aegis certainly hadn't skimped on bringing it up to operational standard.

    He pinched the bridge of his nose again, running his hand through his hair. He turned away from the holographic display, back to his desk. Ships didn't just explode. Ships lost atmosphere, ships lost power, and ships got lost, but they didn't explode - not without a good reason.

    At that point, the door opened. A man stood beyond it, wearing a neoprene officer's blazer over a white shirt and black tie. The man was young - perhaps twenty - and possessed an appearance that was attractive in its bizareness; a tall, thin face, close-set eyes hidden behind a pair of tinted sunglasses, thick lips spaced far away from his eyes by the presence of his crooked aqualine nose, and large ears hidden within a head of wavy, jet black hear that ran to the back of his neck. He was tall and lanky, ungainly in appearance, yet in spite of all this carried himself with a serious, collected an unemotional demenanour that perhaps made it clear why he had climbed the ranks of Outer Aegis so quickly, despite his age.

    "Captain de Mortier," began Morrison, stepping into the room. "I've been asked by my employers to see why you aren't answering their direct communication requests.

    de Mortier turned to him, folding his arms. "I wasn't aware I was under an obligation to."

    "One of our best and brightest died in that disaster. A... dear friend." said Morrison, his Adam's apple pulsing upwards through his neck to force the words out. "We would simply like to be kept in the know about any discoveries."

    "When I've finished my investigation, your employers will be free to read my report, just like everyone else. Until then, don't mistake your and your mens' presence here as technical advisors for having any sort of say in how the investigation is conducted."

    Morrison wasn't pleased with the answer. He stepped forwards. "Outer Aegis is an EUN sub-contractor, Captain de Mortier. A highly esteemed one, too. It is highly unusual for us to not be afforded the same clearance level as any other outfit of the military."

    "Unusual doesn't necessarily equate to incorrect."

    "Captain de Mortier, I fear you are allowing your personal political views to cloud your better judgment."

    "No, Mr. Morrison; only the Constitution." replied de Mortier, turning back to his holo-display, resuming it. "A document many closer to the pull of Terra's gravity seem to have forgot exists. Now, if you'll let me be, I appear have a report to draft."

    Morrison saluted - a gesture that held no significance to de Mortier - and turned to leave. The elderly captain sighed once more, dismissing the entire holo-display, and returning to his desk. He slumped down behind it, unbuttoning his jacket, and pulling his scarf loose from his neck; he threw it loosely onto the desk, before reaching over it to reclaim his bottle of whiskey, pouring another glass.

    Francoise de Mortier was one of the few remaining members of the old guard; the seemingly ancient political order that had led the Earth Union through, amongst other challenges, the Enhanced Evolution Ban, First Contact, and the War of Independence. The primarchs of his day had long since held their final audience at the round table, and the memories of their rule sent a nostalgic pang through de Mortier's chest; memories of a time where his fervent adherence to the Constitution saw him revered as a stalwart protector of the common good, not a persistent, undying thorn in the side of the newly reformed Roundtable, cast out into the depths of the solar system to keep him as far away from doing any harm as possible. The appearance of men like Blair Morrison, with their sharp looks and words concealing cores of moral emptiness and self-serving ambition, served to remind de Mortier - like a silver hair, or a fall one never quite recovered from - of how antiquated he had become.

    But antiquated didn't necessarily equate to incorrect, either.

    He got up to leave for his quarters, making his way through the observation lounge door, and out into the corridor beyond. The corridor itself seemed to curve upwards along the length of it; de Mortier was in the central gravitational block of the ship, and he was effectively walking on the inside of a drum that was constantly rotating to provide gravity. It had been many decades since the sensation was new to him; occasionally, though, the thought that he were no more than a hamster running on its wheel crept back up on him. Regardless, he made his way through the corridor to the other hemisphere of the gravitational block, sliding open the entrance to his quarters.

    Knight-Errant Aster sat within, on de Mortier's personal armchair, reading from the Captain's copy of the Quran.

    "I hope you washed your hands before touching that." said de Mortier, pulling his jacket off and hanging it besides his door. Aster looked up to him, and smirked.

    "I didn't realize you were a Muslim, captain."

    "I'm not. But that book was given to me by a very close friend; it is one of the few possessions I have any real attachment to."

    Her fingers traced along the surface of the page she had opened. It was certainly a beautiful book; the paper was a rich navy blue, contrasted with the ornate gold leaf with which the calligraphy had been inscribed, the beauty of which was captivating even to Aster, who knew very little Arabic. She gently closed the book, before standing up and placing it back at the top of de Mortier's bookshelf. The Knight-Errant was a young woman in her early twenties, possessed of that extraordinary beauty afforded to most of the offspring of Terra's ruling classes - after all, biological modification of live Humans was strictly forbidden, but the law was slightly less clear on the subject of in utero DNA tampering. Her hair was a vibrant gold, pulled into a neat ponytail at the base of her skull, and her eyes were an icy blue. She wore a standard EUSF uniform - a close-fitting, integrally armored bodysuit far removed from the ornate yet impractical dress uniforms of the Earth Union Navy. Ordinarily it was worn under a set of naval digital combat trousers and a matching UBACS shirt, but Knight-Errants were free to customize their uniform as they saw fit; Aster instead wore it with a simple black neoprone longcoat, with a high collar framing her cheekbones. It gave her the look of a film noir detective, which ultimately was probably her intention in wearing it.

    "I hope you don't take offence if I ask what you're doing in my quarters."

    "Outer Aegis are fucking stonewalling us." replied Aster, turning back to the captain with a nonchalant expression on her face. de Mortier was taken aback, but then nodded.

    "They... they are being unusually uncooperative."

    "Not just uncooperative." replied Aster, walking towards the door. "Outright obtrusive. Come with me."

    de Mortier followed warily. He had never been a huge fan of the Knights-Errant and their schemes; nor did he approve of the powers they were afforded. Each Primarch of the Round Table was given the liberty of appointing a limited quantity of individuals to the Order of Terra, making them Knights-Errant of the Round Table; such individuals were then imbued with almost unlimited powers of arrest, investigation, and diplomatic immunity. The original intention in the formation of the Order was to allow the Primarchs to send direct representatives to the various colonies and economic blocs of the Earth Union when they were unable (or unwilling) to travel themselves; now the Knights-Errant found a new purpose as special investigators, commissars, and - even though the constitution explicitly outlawed it - spies. de Mortier took quiet solace in the fact that there were so few Knights-Errant in existence; less than a hundred to patrol the billions of humans within the Earth Union's borders.

    That didn't change the fact that one of them was on his ship, however.

    Aster's personal cruiser, the Vegliantino, was stowed away within one of the Vengeance's auxillary hangars. She was a Pegasus-class transport craft, lightly armed; as it came into de Mortier's view he recognized why the class had earned the moniker 'Blackbird', for its resemblance to the old-Earth reconnaisance aircraft was uncanny. Indeed, the configuration first exhibited on the Blackbird had undergone a renaissance during the age of space travel as one of the more efficient ways of constructing a spacecraft with atmospheric flight capabilities; the Pegasus­-class was merely the latest refinement of that tradition. The two passed through the airlock and into her ship, the change in air pressure catching de Mortier by surprise.

    "Sorry. I keep it Earth-standard - the stuff you spacenoids breathe makes me light-headed."

    "A little warning wouldn't go amiss." replied de Mortier, standing and surveying the interior of Aster's ship. It was mess; deflated drinks pouches and empty food cartons floated freely through the cockpit, and as they made their way into the operations lounge behind it, de Mortier thought she might have accidentally led him into her wardrobe instead. Perhaps this Knight-Errant needs a squire­, he thought, as he reluctantly began picking up the debris and depositing it, piece by piece, in one of the waste disposal chutes running overhead.

    Aster pulled her coat off, throwing it limply into the air; gravity's absence would serve as her coathanger. She turned, folding her arms, and made a gesture towards the holo-table in the centre of the room. de Mortier pulled an unwashed camisole off the holo-emitter, allowing the projection to shine through; he threw the vest to Aster, a displeased look on his face.

    "We could've remained in my quarters, Knight-Errant. Or you could've come to the observation lounge. It's obvious that you don't usually make a point of having visitors round."

    "I don't trust Outer Aegis to not have bugged the ship."

    The projection that emerged from the holo-table was the Asiaticus. de Mortier had seen it a thousand times over by now; he regarded the projection with a haggard expression on his face, before looking up to Aster. With a twitch of his toes, he activated the magnetic clamps in the soles of his boots, pulling him down to the floor; he then perched on the edge of one of the passenger seats lining either side of the ops room, almost hunched over the holotable.

    "The Asiaticus was blown up by a stealth ship." announced Aster.

    "I'm glad I'm not the only bloody one thinking that." replied de Mortier, leaning backwards slightly. "I was starting to think I was going mad."

    "I think that's what Outer Aegis wants. None of the evidence they've given us has been falsified- it's just not the right evidence." she said, drawing up a visual display of the terabytes of information Outer Aegis had provided them with. She then drew up a visual display of the information provided when the Scipio Africanus had sunk, nearly two-and-a-half years ago, and overlaid them.

    "The Primarch assigned me to the Africanus investigation, too - Outer Aegis is headquartered in the Alexandria belt cluster, and so it's represented at the Round Table by the North Atlantic Territories Reform Alliance."

    "I'm well aware of the plight of the belt clusters for governmental representation, Ms Aster."

    "But that's the point - Outer Aegis are kissasses. They know full well that they won't get any of the juicy defense contracts without NATRA on their side - Primarch Sulrai tells them to jump, and they ask how high. Primarch Sulrai asks them if they were up to anything illegal... and they answer truthfully."

    Aster pulled a cluster of data from the Scipio Africanus investigation, expanding it to fill the entire projection.

    "Human Trafficking." replied de Mortier, sorrowfully.

    "Between you and me, Captain, the higher-ups in Outer Aegis were fully aware of what was going on - but Rainn managed to swing it that it was just the Africanus's captain trying to make some money on the side, and not necessarily checking that his ship's life support could deal with the extended population. Think of it what you will - that's the relationship Outer Aegis enjoys with NATRA. That's the relationship they're not giving us in this investigation."

    She drew up the equivalent area of data from the Valerius Asiaticus files.

    Nothing.

    Aster continued. "No mission manifest, no nothing - not even an informal explanation. They're refusing to even confirm that it was just a routine patrol mission - burning every bridge they have with us, which makes me think they're involved in some shit even Rainn Sulrai can't bail them out of."

    "And here was me thinking 'gassing your child sex slaves with their own CO2 emissions' was at the tail end of human immorality."

    "It was an accident, captain."

    "Sorry - 'accidentally gassing your child sex slaves with their own CO2 emissions'."

    Aster sighed, dismissing the holographic projection.

    "Outer Aegis have access to the same data we do - if they think it was a stealth ship, it's only because they've followed the same path of logical deduction that we have. But when you factor in their behavior with regards to this whole incident... it becomes too much to be a coincidence. The Valerius Asiaticus came out to what was an effectively uncharted area of space, for a reason they won't reveal even to us, got itself blown up by a stealth ship, and now Outer Aegis are trying to burn every detail of the incident. They know what went down here, captain... and I think we've got a pretty good idea too."

    de Mortier stiffened up, folding his arms behind his back.

    "The Commonwealth."
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    Klak
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    Re: Temples Of His Gods

    Post by Klak on Tue Apr 11, 2017 5:27 am

    I like the Aster cameo and the references to Rainn, well done! Looking forward to the next chapter.


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    Re: Temples Of His Gods

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      Current date/time is Tue Apr 25, 2017 7:08 am