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-Mercury Foundries-    -Eve Online-
-Alternate Future- -StarTrek-

-STALKER- -Borderlands-
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Parts 1~4 - Assasination - Warfront - Settling Differences - Gods amongst Men - Conclusion - What once was - Now and again


Quietly the lift slid up, softly coming to a halt at the rooftop exit.
The man picked up his suitcase and left the cabin, with all intent heading to the door to the terrace.

With a soft click his masterkey unlocked the door, he smiled softly as the keypad's indicator light flashed green, then went dead.

There would be no record of him being here, he saw to that in advance, a bribe here, a threat there, favors earned and debts collected.
Nobody knew.

It took him less then a minute to reach the edge of the roof, the wind blowing his hair around.
This high up, this far away, nobody would bother to go look for him, until he was well and gone.

He crouched and put his suitcase down, flicking the lock and opening the lid, revealing a collection of different trinkets and devices.
Some where gleaming silver, others dark grey, a blue painted tube and red glowing battery pack, a bit of cloth, some tubes.
Any cursory inspection would reveal nothing suspicious about all this, his alibi called him a door to door salesman working for Aegis technologies, nothing more.

One by one he removed the pieces from the case and placed them on the ground, neatly aligning them single column.
Finally he took hold of the suitcase itself, clutching both handles and breaking the spine over his knee.
The baskets dropped away, only the spine of the case remained in his hands, which he turned over and snapped together.

He began snapping all the pieces together in the frame, tube at the front, cyclotron at the back, two tubes curved in a crescent moon, wrapped in cloth, batteries, high resolution camera.
It all fit together perfectly, but one piece was missing.

Halting, holding the collection with both hands, he looked up and scanned the skyline.
This high up, commercial traffic was barely audible, he could only hear the faint whistle of a shuttle dropping from orbit.
Checking his watch, he put the piece down, and reached inside his jacket.
From a hidden pouch, he pulled out a small personal defense weapon.
Barely a weapon at all, the small stunner nevertheless fired a large projectile intended to stop a target dead in its tracks.
He pushed it into the middle of his contraption, finally locking it into place and revealing his apparatus for it's true nature.
He stood up to the ledge, shouldering the rifle.
The weapon felt flimsy, he probably wouldn't get more then a single shot from it.

He looked up again, saw a small spec in the distant skyline, slowly drawing closer.
He checked his watch.
Only a few more minutes until it was supposed to land.

Still holding the rifle firmly in his shoulder with one hand, he pulled a small box from another pocket, flicking it open with his thumb revealing a single contact lens.
Carefully he took the lens and let the box drop, and slowly placed the lens onto his right eye, closing the other.

Energized by the heat of his body and conductivity of the fluids of his eyeball, the lens superimposed a reticule and wind-sheer data on his field of vision.
He squinted a little, the lens focused and increased magnification by a few factors.
Another light on his rifle flashed on, the two devices had paired.

The shuttle landed, it's hatch opened and passages started disembarking.
They were so far away, he could barely make then out against the backdrop from this distance.

'Today shall be a day of days' he thought to himself.
'Caesar falls, an empire crumbles'

He took aim, squinting to the point the lens had zoomed in far enough so that he could make out the individual faces of all the new arrivals.
After a few minutes, he finally saw his mark.

"There you are..." He muttered to himself.
How he hated this man, how insatiable his desire for revenge, a public execution would be merciful by comparison to what he desired, but this would do.
His mark made his way to the center plaza.
The man took a deep breath, placing the tip of his finger on the trigger.

His mark stopped just a few steps short of the plaza's middle, aligning the circular tiles perfectly with his head from the man's point of few.
The man exhaled his held breath slowly, as his breath ended, his mark looked up, and he pulled the trigger.
His mark looked him straight in his eye.
The rifle fired.

Time seemed to close to freezing as the projectile soared.
For barely the fraction of a mere moment, his mark stared, the slightest of smiles touching his lips, as his Grey Paladin guards around him decloaked and tried to jump in front of him.
Barely a moment had passed, as the projectile slammed into his forehead, breaking skin and shattering bone, sending a pink vaporous mist behind him.
His head rocked back, arms limber as the force of the shot pushed him away.
His body fell.
More Paladins appeared, rushing towards him, each brandishing his weapons.
Without a sound, his head hit the ground, his body remained still, his limbs slumped.
Eight Paladins gathered around him, the shield matrices of their armor shifting from glowing soft white to blood red.
In unison they threw their arms wide and heads back, howling a thunderous roar of pain and anger.
They brandished their halbards and cannon, scattering into the crowd that gathered, indiscriminately slaughtering every passerby they found.
One pointed at a distant building, another threw his halbard at the ground and changed his wrist cannon to a larger weapon encasing his entire arm.
An aperture opened as the weapon took in energy from the environment, and for a moment silence fell as the weapon charged.
After a second, a massive beam of bright white shimmering fire shot forth, almost instantly impacting the ledge of the building where the shooter stood.
A massive explosion consumed the entire roof and engulfed five whole stories of the large tower, leaving a burning shell of noxious smoke in it's wake.

The paladins set out further, hunting all living things they could find, and they found them all, silently destroying homes, wrecking vehicles, tearing limb from limb anyone and everyone in their grasp, with nary a sound produced but the scraping of their blades and blasts of cannon.

No one was spared.

Spreading out to neighboring areas, they lost sight of their master.

Silently a single hooded figure made his way to the fallen hero.
He kneeled beside him, pausing for a few seconds in near reverence before placing his hand on the fallen champion's face.
Gently he swiped his hand down, respectfully closing his eyes.

Only the dead would know he whispered to the corpse, planting the seeds of what would be the biggest deception of a lifetime.
He stayed down on his knee for a bit longer, awaiting the next act in this galactic play of which he would now be the star in the spotlight.

"What the hell happened!" Azriel yelled over the chaos.
The bridge of the leviathan in orbit was in chaos, reports and readings wildly yelled back and forth.
A lieutenant finally stopped his frantic calls to answer the Vice President.
"It's the president, sir, Seraphine's been shot!"
"Vitals are gone, one moment he was there then nothing!"
Another officer added in.

"What do you mean, shot?"
"Telemetry coming in now." Someone else yelled, as the overhead monitors flickered to life.

There before the view of all, they bore witness to the horror, as their beloved leader stepped out, came to a halt, and with a streak of fire jolted back and fell down.

"Is this legit?" Azriel asked.
"He's been shot before and walked away"

The entire bridge fell quiet as they all watched the recording, collective breath held in... But their president did not get back on his feet.
"Sir, the paladins... They've gone insane, not responding to our hails."

Azriel leaned down to a console and pressed a button, opening a communication line.
"Storm to all ground forces, desist all activity, comply."
He was met with no response but the cries and screams of the paladin's victims.
"I say again, cease and desist all action, this is an order!"

Without a single word in reply the paladins continued to wreak havoc, Azriel felt his anger rising, forcing calm in his voice he issued new orders between heavy, slow breaths.

"To all remaining forces in this sector, prepare to engage Grey Paladin aggressors."

Some of the attending bridge officers turned to him in shock.
"Sir, the paladins are..."
Azriel stopped him before he could finish.
"I am well aware of the paladin's role and capabilities lieutenant, I have you an order. Prepare atmospheric munitions, we'll bomb them from orbit if we have to!"

Suddenly cutting through the noise, the ship's proximity alert sounded.
Through the viewports they saw a massive shadow falling over the exposed hull of the Beowulf, as another ship quickly decloaked right above them.
The incredible hull was pitch black, red glowing field emitters dotting the familiar pair of wings, as the shape of a leviathan as black as the space surrounding it shot past them.

"What the hell is that?!" The sensor operator gasped.
"Is that one of ours?" Another asked.
"Raising shields!"

Azriel leaned forward on the railing,  gazing at the massive vessel as it dropped past them and descended.
"I can't get any readings on that thing, any... At all, if I didn't see it with my own eyes I'd say it wasn't even there."

"Switch sensors to optical" Azriel ordered.
At his word the overhead screens changed color and layout, giving false-color and infrared imagines instead.
More viewports slid open a and glare filters faded in place, giving the crew a wide angle of view.
"Sir, it's heading straight for the city."
"Lay a pursuit course, lock on all available weapons."

The Beowulf's engines flared up at full power, lurching the mighty vessel forward and heading down.

"It's definitely the same external design as a leviathan, but I haven't heard of anything like this one before, there's no reading on any kind of transponder, no exterior markings, nothing..." The xo commented.
"It's a ghost ship then, could it be one of Seraphine's secrets?"

"None that I'm aware of... Stay focused and stay on it's tail."

The two ships descended through the atmosphere at incredible speed, friction fires blazing around their hulls leaving a glowing streak in their wake.
It didn't take long for them to level their flight, the lead ship slowing down just before the city borders nearly letting the Beowulf crash into it.

Circling around the city once, the black leviathan came to a dead stop above the central square, right above where the fallen champion and hooded stranger stood.
Slowly the stranger reached down, taking the fallen in his arms and standing up.

The crew of the Beowulf watched as the lower cargobay on the black leviathan opened up, the stranger kneeled down and in the blink of an eye, leapt up and into the ship.

"Did he just...?"
"That's easily 800 meters!"

The crew of the Beowulf watched on, as the black leviathan lowered itself further, hovering just above the skyline of the buildings below it.

"Sir, the paladins."

Below the ship they saw all of the paladins coming together and jumping between the walls of the skyscrapers, reaching further up and gathering on the roof directly below the still open cargohold of the ominous black ship.

Without hesitation they entered the ship, weapons at hand and shields blazing red.
Azriel saw his chance, straightening his stance on the bridge as he issued his new order.
"Bring all weapons to bare, and take that ship down!"

The Beowulf's mighty cannons fired and launchers flared as the ship turned to face it's foe, torpedoes streaking forward and particle beams reaching out.
The cargobay slid shut as the last of the paladins disappeared from view, just as the first of the beams came in.
with a thunderous crash and roaring noise did the beams strike the ship's outer shields, scattering wildly and streading to the winds, harmlessly dissapating without harm.

The black ship lurched upwards again, it's massive engines blazing brightly causing severe shear winds on the ground, strong gusts of air blowing out some of the fires started by the Paladins.

As the ship accelerated the Beowulf's Torpedos finally caught up to it, passing through the first layer of shielding but coming to a hampering halt in the entrapping second layer of shields, floating there in limbo for a moment before being crushed by the shield matrix.

"Charge the Ioncannon." Azriel ordered.
"We'll wait until we're clear of the planet then let her rip that thing to pieces."

The bridge fell quiet, many officers turned in shock to face their commander.
"Sir..." one officer hesitantly began.
"Do you ahve a hearing problem, Ensign?"

"Deetex is aboard that ship sir, are you sure it's..."

"Deetex is DEAD, you all saw what happened, he's not getting up again and I sure as hells aren't going to let some unknown factor run off with his corpse, Charge that damned cannon!"

With the strength of his brotherhood, his command fell loud and fierce, the crew was stunned into compliance as they scattered about making all nessesary preperations.
As the Beowulf flew upwards piercing the veil of clouds above, the nose of the ship slid open revealing the apature of the planet-killing weapon.
The Leviathan's core weapon, the Ion flux cannon, a weapon so large and powerful an entire ship was build around it.
It's short range, relative to it's power requirement and sheer size, was often enough to completely destroy any target it's operators deemed a nessesary target.
It's only drawback was an electro-static feedback when fired, powerful enough to blind the ship's sensors and leave the shields severely compromised.

"Cannon charged, Sir" the weapons officer commented, as both ships continued to soar up.
"75 seconds until we're clear."

Azriel walked up towards the front of the bridge, taking a defiant stance as he glared at the distant wake of the black ship, it's sharp contrast fading gradually as the atmosphere grew thinner around them.

"You can't have him..." he muttered to himself, counting down the seconds.
Only a few left and they'd be clear.

He was about to issue the order to fire when a sensor operator suddenly recoiled.
"Woah, what the..."
Azriel glanced back, right as the operator doublechecked his readings.


"I'm reading some strange emitions coming from that thing, high levels of spatial compression waves and subspace surges, there's a rupture opening."

"A jumpgate?"

"It almost looks like that ship is generating an artificial wormhole, itself serving as catalyst... but how is that even possi... " He stopped himself, coming to a realization.
"Sir, the Cannon!"

Azriel saw it too, turning in an instant to face the lead weapons operator.
"Vent the cannon charge!"

Just then did the black vessel before them fold in on itself, the wings melting into the pockets of warped space around them and with a flash jumped ahead into realms unknown.
Left in it's wake the Beowulf was caught by the spatial currents, bucking and heaving, struggling to break free as the glowing apature of it's Ion cannon bled out, interacting with the anomoly and pulling the helpless vessel further in.

As the ship rocked it's crew and cargo was thrown about, only by sheer will did Azriel manage to make himself heard.
"All hands, brace for impact!"

The Beowulf careened with the vortex, a violant flash encompassed the entire hull as it lurched forward, sending it away and it's crew flying.

All the lights went dead, gravity went limb and the soft humming of the engines fell quiet.
After a few seconds, a blinding light filled the bridge, as the ship was thrown back into space close to a different star.
Caught by the currents, the crew could hear the hull straigning under the stress as the ship flew forward and turned, gliding sideways.

Backup systems jumped to life, emergency lights flickered on and gravity was slowly being restored, gently easing the crew back down.

"Report!" Azriel ordered, as his bridge crew slowly got back to their assigned stations.
Barely any of the consoles were functional, what few physical buttons there were even less gave any response at all.

"That... jump if that's what it was, killed all our primary systems, scanners are offline, shields are gone, reactor is cold, weapons , navigation, internal sensors, lifesupport is on emergency power."

"Any idea where the hells we are?"

The crew looked up and outside through all the open viewports, the glare filters keeping the blinding sunlight out thankfully still functional, a simple chemical reaction wasn't hampered by a power outage.
"There it is..." one of the officers remarked, pointing towards a shape in the distance.

Everyone focussed towards it, seeing the silhouette of the black ship quickly heading away from them, heading straight towards a small desolate planet not far away.
Azriel looked at it, then at the star so close by and glaced past a few stars.
"Looks like we're beyond the colonial borders, could be edgeworld territory but I don't recognize this solar system."

A quick sputter sounded, followed by a growing humming noise.
The main lights flickered back to life, following the consoles and terminals all around them.
"Engineering reports the reactors are back online, shields are coming up and scanners are recalibrating."

An alarm sounded, navigation officers jumped to life.
The ship was drifting free in space, but too close to the star and it's gravity was pulling them closer.
"Firing up engines." the helmsman stated.

It was rare for a leviathan to be left completely powerless, some of it's systems took longer to restart then others, and unfortuantely for the crew, internal force compensation was one of the slowest.
As the beowulf stabilized it's heading, the crew were subjected to forces most of them hadn't felt in a long time, basic flight training... those who passed out on their second attempt -everyone passes out their first time- were automatically exempt from service onboard a capitol ship.

Gradually the distance to the star grew, as the ship headed out in pursuit of the black ship once more.

"Stay on him, Thomas" Azriel told the helmsman.
Slowly the ship started to accelerate, closing the distance with each passing second.
At full power a Leviathan had no trouble breaking free from a star's gravity, it's shields and hull strong enough to withstand the intense radiation and forces... But the Beowulf, crippled by what it went through just now could not be considered full power in the least.

They watched on as the black leviathan passed through the planet's upper thermosphere, effortlessly shrugging off the friction and continued to head down, it's hull blazing.

"Can we land?" Azriel asked out loud.
"In theory, if we can find a clearing, but it'll take some doing at our current condition."
It was all he needed to hear.
"Strike teams alpha, delta and phi, prepare for disembark at combat readiness!" He ordered over the comm system.
Recon, assault and artillery, he was deploying the most talented teams his ship had to offer, a clear indication he expected a fight and intended to win it.

The black ship decended rapidly, leveling off it's flight once past the Stratosphere, it's engines reducing, then reversing their thrust as it left the limping Beowulf struggling behind it.
With only minimal shields and limited power, the Beowulf had to enter the atmosphere much slower then usual, reducing friction and keeping a stable decent.
They were losing valuable time, and had already lost sight of the black leviathan now so far away again.

"Sir, we may be able to track that thing indirectly, at that speed it's bound to create some serious turbulance, tremmors if it lands, news casts if it flies overhead."
"You mean seeing through peripheral vision, how soon can you establish a picture?"
"Just a few minutes, we'll also need to send a few survey probes out."

Within seconds two probes were shot from the Beowulf's launchers, unfolding  wings and sensor rods and heading in opposite directions away from their mothership.
"Receiving telemetry data now, crossreferencing with our own sensor readings, yup, definitely looks like it's getting ready to land."

"Striketeams report ready for deployment sir."

"Looks like there's a small town ahead, plenty of clearings around it, could that be it's target?"

"Skipper, you have the bridge, put us down next to it, I'm going in with our forces." Azriel ordered as he headed to the back of the bridge.
"Are you sure that's wise sir? We don't know anything about that ship, it's compliment or capabilities, it already shook off all our weapon's fire."

Azriel stopped just short of the doorway, slightly turning his head in reply.
"All the more reason for me to be there."

It took Azriel only a few minutes to reach the quarters he and his brother shared.
At the far back, he found the vault where they stored their private weapons and equipment.
He donned his armor, an impressive suit normally too heavy and grabbed a set of bulky rifles.
Much more a soldier then his brother, he preferred the use of ranged weapons and powerful ones at that.
Deetex used handguns from time to time, two of them, perfect twins, but often closed in to fight a foe with his unique sword.
Azriel's rifles were based on those same pistols, but much larger, much more powerful, and far to unwieldy for any one man to use effectively... and he had two of them.

The ship shook as it began the landing procedure, rocous noise could be heard through the bulkheads as the landing struts extended and after a very brief pause of silence, the Beowulf touched down.
He made his way to the loading bay, where three teams of specialists stood at the ready performing final equipment checks.
Three tanks, two howitzers and half a dozen high-mobility raiders were all powered up and ready to roll out.

"Attention!" the senior officer yelled, all the soldiers jerked up and saluted.
"As you were." Azriel replied.

"Men, we're about to face an unknown force, we do not know his intent, his military capabilities or wether or not he is alone. He has demonstrated the ability to resist our weapons so far but I believe a concentrated effort will yield favorable results."

He shouldered one of his rifles, the other suspended from his back.
"We need to find out what he wants, where he hid Seraphine, and how to get back to the Colonies, if unable to subdue him, we destroy him, understood?"

All the gathered soldiers replied in unisum.
"Sir, yes sir!"

Three short alarms sounded, a hissing noise followed, and within a second the bay doors slid open and the boarding ramp landed with a loud metalic thud.

"Alpha team, take forward positions, Delta team with me, Phi will maintain a fire solution from behind."
Their engines roared as the raiders from Alpha team pulled up and shot past, quickly picking up the pace as they raced away towards the small garison town a few kilometers ahead.
The largest drawback with a ship the size of a leviathan class was inevitably the distance one would have to travel underneath it to get anywhere, assuming one could find a place to land the 4 Kilometer long monstrocity in the first place.

They made good speed over the dry ground, pillows of dust blowing up in their wake.
"Have visual on unknown vessel, no enemy contact." the Comm system sounded.
"Understood, maintain surveillance."
The tanks rolled on, Two at the front, soldiers between them, one at the rear. 
Not as fast as the scouting party but significantly more threatening, they crawled onward towards the town.

As the massive black ship settled down, the cargobays slid back open again.
The hooded figure stepped down, carrying the corpse in his arms still.
He took a few steps towards the small town not far away.
One step, two steps.
At the third step, a wind picked up and blew his mantle around.
Another step, then at the fifth, he vanished.

Within the blink of an eye he stood at the open gates of the small garison town, entering without question or comment.

He had a clear goal set, and it didn't take long to find a small cottage close to the outer walls.
As though planned the doors were already open, he entered the building and found a vacant bed.
Just as he layed his care on it, a woman entered the room.
Her long red hair bound in a knot, dressed in a pale blue singlesuit, she nearly dropped her tray of cups, gasping.
"Who are you?"

Sitting down next to his care, the man turned to face her, his face conceiled by his hood, gesturing her to be quiet.
"This man needs your help." he muttered quietly.
"What happened to him?" she replied, keeping her voice low and taking a few cautios steps closer.
"Shot, long distance, potentially fatal, He'll come around but will probably suffer from severe memory loss."

He brushed a locket of hair from his care's face, revealing the impact wound on his forehead.
The wound had been cauterized slightly, enough to stop the bleeding but clearly a fatal shot for anyone.
Her eyes went wide as she gazed at the injury.
"He's still alive?!"

The hooded man remained still for a moment, staring at his care before getting up slowly.
"He's a tough one... will you take care of him?"

She grabbed a piece of cloth and poured some water on it, cleaning the wounded area gently.
"I suppose I should, but nothing in this life is free..."
Just as she said that she heard a thud behind her.
Turning, she saw the hooded man dropped a small bag next to him, inside she could hear the sharp sound of glass clattering in it.
"I believe you will find these crystals an ample source of currency in your future endeavres."

He stepped away from the bag and over to a small desk.
Without a word he straightened a pen that was placed next to a few sheets of paper, turned an empty glass so it's etched side was facing straight outward, and slid the chair exactly in front of it.
She watched as he performed his oddly precise tasks, making her wonder.

"I'm sorry, have we met? were you familiar with the previous tennants?"

He stopped, suddenly very conscious of himself.
Pulling his hood further over his face, he turned to the door and started to leave.
"Not yet, but soon."

As he left, he stopped just outside the front garden and turned.
The pale white walls of the small single floor cottage were as clean and pure as his memory of this place.
He looked at the garden, noticed a few rows of young plants with large leafs neatly arranged and recently watered, a small picket fence surrounded the entire thing.

"Take good care of her." he whispered.

The young woman watched as he strolled away, waiting a few minutes after he had gone from sight before grabbing the small bag and opening the flap.
She dropped it as soon as she saw what was in it, gasping loud.
The bag hit the floor, and several long clear crystals bounced out and scattered over the floor.
Sirian star crystals, some of the rarest, most purest carbon crystalin formations known to man, extremely rare and insanely expensive.
Useful as currency, as optical condictive material, isolation, their use was as endless as their glamour.

And he had given her an entire bag full of them, dozens, neatly stacked and most bound together in bundles.
With a fortune this size, she could buy out the entire planet, maybe even the solar system itself.
All he asked of her was to take care of this injured man.
"Alright, let's see how serious you are injured..." she finally said, putting the bag away and turning back to the fallen hero.

He made his way to the edge of the town, a steady stride but stopped a few meters out.
There before him was a surrounding formation of soldiers and tanks, rifles and cannon, each one drawing a target on him.

At the head of the group, a large armorclad individual stood, a massive rifle in each hand, both aimed right at his head.

"Get down on the ground!" the lead gunman ordered.

The hooded man stood still but didn't move.

"Get down or we will fire!" the leader repeated.

No response at first, but after a very brief pause he lifted one hand to his side.
It was a signal to someone, but not to his assailants.

Azriel took several thunderous steps forward, the dense metal layers of his suit glisening in the setting sun.
His rifles threateningly closer together.
He stopped, and fired them both at the hooded stranger.

"OPEN FIRE!" one of the soldiers yelled, followed by a cacophonous roar of all their combined weapons unleashing furious anger upon this single man.
From far away several loud blasts could be heard, blazing streaks of fire curved over and struck the man as well, artillery fire as precise as only Phi could deliver it, striking true and hard.

More tankblasts and more automatic fire continued, more shells from overhead impacted, and through it all, Azriel took step after step closer with fire in his eyes.

Only after several minutes had passed did Azriel stop and raize one rifle overhead.
The onslaught ended.
"Cease fire" someone yelled in the aftermath.
Two more artillery shells still on their way exploded harmlessly in the sky.

Azriel stood only a few meters from the smoking crater, peering through the smoke and dust.

Suddenly a pair of tiny lights flickered to life, shining brightly through the thick plume of smoke.
Two more appeared, further to the right, then two more and two more.
Neatly paired, equally spaced, unmoving and razorsharp.

Azriel counted 8 pairs in total, cautiously taking a step back as the curtain of smoke started clearing away.

Standing still in the middle of a massive riddled crater, the hooded stranger had one hand, clutched into a first in front of his face, standing just behind him and off to his sides eight towering Grey Paladin guards stood, weapons at the ready.

He lowered his fist and pointed forward, the Paladins took a united step forward and surrounded the man.

All the gathered soldiers watched on as the hooded man started walking forward, the paladins, all eight of them, maintaining a perfect circle around him.
The lead Paladin brought his Halbert up, as he aproached Azriel.

Recognizing their perril, Azriel dashed off to the side and shouted his orders.
"Scatter, let them pass, Scatter!"

As the soldiers frantically tried to get away and the tanks turned and sputtered, the hooded man and his surrounding guards marched past, heading out for the ominous black vessel far away.

Azriel tapped his comm unit.
"Alpha team, stay on them!"

"Alpha 2 in pursuit" one of the scouts replied as he raced off in a raider.
"Everybody else return to the ship."

As the stranger reached his ship, the boarding ramp was already down and waiting.
Four of the eight Paladins remained at the ramp, two quickly cloaking themselves as they all took a defensive position.

The hooded stranger made his way to the bridge of his ship, a large room with plenty of windows but no consoles, merely a single chair right in the middle.
He took a seat, and waited.

Azriel and his forces made their way to the Beowulf.
He was pleased to receive reports that repairs had been made and the corporation's flagship was back at full power once more.
He returned his equipment to the vault and decided to sign off on a few days R&R for the soldiers he deployed.
They did good, despite their utter inability to harm their foe.
It wasn't their fault, he himself couldn't do anything either after all.
A useless gesture, as he was sure they would all use the free time to conduct individual battledrills and continue training.

He had only just reached the bridge when the ship's communication system suddenly sprang to life.
Static at first, then clearing up and a mam's voice was heard.

"This is the Mercury Imperial flagship Midnight Falls calling the MCV Beowulf, your hostile intent had been forgiven."

A brief pause fell, one of the officers made a remark.
"Did he say Imperial?"
The voice continued.
"I welcome Azriel Storm aboard my vessel, you may bring whatever forces you desire with you. That is all."
With a surge of static and a bleep, the comm channel closed again.
The bridge was quiet, all eyes were on their commanding officer.

Azriel swallowed, then without a word left the bridge again and made his way to the very same loading bay he had just come from.

He noticed most of Delta team were still overhauling their tanks and equipment.
Like the perfect army that they were they stood at attention when he passed them, ready at a moment's notice to jump right back into a fight.
He nodded in approval, but didn't issue any order.

It took him a while and a long walk to reach the other ship.
Two paladins at the ramp looked at him, but didn't move.
He passed them without incident and confidently boarded the black vessel.
The internal layout was nearly identical to that of the Beowulf, only the materials used and certain access panels were different, it gave him an uneasy feeling.

His path was marked by open doors and brightly lit hallways, finding the most efficient route to the bridge.
Standing in the opening, he gazed at the backside of the large single chair.

"What have you done with Seraphine?" He demanded.
No reply.
He stepped closer.
"Who are you?"
Again no reply.

He carefully approached the chair, reaching out to grab the back when the stranger suddenly spoke up.

"Look out there."
He lifted his arm from the rest and pointed out.
Azriel walked past him and headed to the front of the bridge, gazing out the viewport at the distant town ahead.
"Do you see?"
"What am I looking at?"
A small grin touched Azriel's lips.
Finally he found a weakness.
"I'll have that place leveled and it's citizens burned alive, unless you give me back that which you took."

The stranger did not flinch, instead lowered his arm again and just sat there.

"No you won't, the Xeno's will, soon. Then I will kill them all, you'll resign and my son will set forth in motion events that will put us back here today."

'Kids?!' Azriel thought to himself.
'There are more like him out there?'

He turned back to face the stranger.
"What do you want?"
The stranger took a long, deep breath.
He got up from his chair, deliberately slow, and gracefully made his way next to Azriel.

"Let's head back to Almere, we'll discuss business there."

Several holographic screens popped in sight, all showing various readings on the planet, the atmosphere, starcharts, diagnostic information and so on.
One panel caught Azriel's attention, a complete schematic of the Beowulf.
"Where did you get that?"

"It's live, observe."
The stranger spread his arms, reaching out as though about to hold something large.
A humming noise grew louder and louder around them, but faded again as the ship lifted up.

It didn't rise far, leaning off to the side and started heading towards the Beowulf.
Azriel watched in awe as the hooded stranger directed his ship with shocking agility and finesse.

The massive black ship, now known as Midnight Falls, hovered over the Beowulf for a few seconds before locking an energy tether on its hull.
The gossamer webbing of the tether spread across the hull, securing the link.
The Midnight Falls lifted up, heaving the Beowulf from the ground with little effort.

They didn't resist, they couldn't, the black ship had already shown it's power and even now was placing more emphasis on just how futile their struggle would be.
Within minutes they broke the atmoshpere of the planet and headed out, Midnight Falls in the lead and the Beowulf in tow.

Azriel stood by, eyes wide and mouth open.
The sheer amount of power this ship was demonstrating was awe inspiring.
"Who... Are you?" he muttered as he stared at the hooded stranger.

From beneath his hood, the stranger merely smiled.
"I will show you a path to walk on your own, but for now you must follow my lead."
A surge of suspision surged through Azriel once more, those words had a familair ring to them.

Matching his feelings, he sensed a massive surge of power coursing through the ship beneath him.
He looked outside, saw the armored edges of the vessel's wings started glowing faintly.
He heard a power buildup, and saw the energy flowing form the wings gathering just in front of the bow.

The Hooded man headed back to his chair and took a seat.
"You may want to refrain from using Ionized weaponry during this." he said, as he placed his palms on the ends of his armrests.
The moment he was fully seated, a violant flash engulved the ship, washing over them and dragging the Beowulf behind them.

Both ships passed through a tunnel of light, faster and faster shaking with turbulence.
After a few seconds the tunnel straightened and both ships stabalized in a smooth flight.

Azriel looked on as they headed on.

"I've never seen anything like this, what kind of propulsion system is this?"

"It's an offshoot development, a hybrid between our own singularity jump drive and the old colonial hyperdrive."
He paused for a second, letting his guest contemplate his answer.
"It hasn't been invented yet." he added.

Azriel scoffed dismissively, still staring out the window.
The sight was beautiful, the energy emitions eminating from the front of this ship were forming a ridged tunnel around them that folded in on itself behind the Beowulf, waves upon waves of pulsing currents guiding the ship through space at an incredible rate.
Then it struck him.
"Our own drive?"

"We're almost at Almere prime, I will dock the Midnight Falls at the APOS, there's one more thing I need to take care of first before I can debrief you."
He raised his hand in a silencing gesture, Azriel remained quiet.
Just then the tunnel of light collapsed, throwing both ships back into normal space.
The black ship released the tether, letting the Beowulf free to drift while it headed for the massive spacestation ahead.

Azriel watched on, expecting the APOS and it's defensive cordon to open fire on them any second now.
But not a single shot was fired.
The Midnight Falls carefully navigated to an open birth, gliding in precicely and locking in with the mooring clamps.

The soft thuds and clanks of the large graplers taking a hold of the ship's wings were heard and felt thruhought the ship.

The stranger got up from his chair and headed to the back door.
"Gather the generals, we have much to discus."
"I can't allow you to leave." 
"You can't stop me if you tried, never could and never will."
"Cut the crap, will you? 
Give me a straight answer already, who..."
The man raised a hand again.
With a flash he disappeared, his shadow lagging behind for a mere fraction of a moment, just long enough for Azriel to see him walking away.

The Midnight Falls' launch bay opened up a few minutes later.
Emerging from it a similarly black ship emerged and cleared the station.
Azriel watched on as the new ship extended a pair of wings and fired up its engines.
A single word was painted on its hull in curving white letters.


Like the black leviathan, the edges of its smooth elongated hull started glowing faintly, and then it disappeared in a flash.

"Well this should be interesting." Azriel muttered, reaching for his communicator.
"All flag officers, gather at the citadel conference room at once."

It took the Raven only a few seconds to reach it's goal, a distant trade post station just outside the Liberty sector.
As it flashed into space, the comm system chirped.
"This is the Raven, requesting permission to dock. No trade or cargo." The hooded man transmitted.
"Copy that Raven, permission granted, bay 3."
The reply he got was swift and direct, no pleasantries or questions.
'Good' he thought to himself.

At the station's bar, a plethora of people were gathered.
Mingling, drinking, discussing business and conducting trade.
All manner of person was found here, the station's neutrality often abused for clandestine purposes.
One such man stood at the bar and ordered a drink.
"Make it a double" he added, as the barkeep grabbed a bottle from the shelf.
His eyes wandered around, taking a careful tally of all gathered.
Freighter crew, mercenaries, informants, businessmen...
One in particular sat alone at a table not far away, his bright formal suit casting a sharp contrast among the crowd.
He turned back to the bar and grabbed his drink.
'Fool' he thought.
'Have some decency man'

He downed his entire drink in one go, but froze on the spot before placing the glass back down.
The hairs in his neck stood upright.
He felt his heart pounding.

Just then a hooded man in a long mantle covering his entire body entered the bar.
He took a few steps forward, then raised his arm holding an impressive handgun.
Without a word he squeezed the trigger.
A bright blue bolt of enraged energy shot forth, striking the man at the bar in his back.
The bar fell quiet as the man jolted forward.
He braces himself at the bar, then collapsed and fell to the floor.

The hooded man stepped closer, stopping right next to his victim.
He leveled his gun, and shot again, this time striking the poor man on the forehead.
He lowered his arm, soft clicks could be heard, the silhouette of his weapon vanished beneath his mantle.

Standing there, he continues to stare at his victim for a few more seconds before turning to leave again.
The man in the white suit stood up, placing himself in front of the stranger.
"Now that was uncalled for, what did he ever do to you?"
His accent betrayed him as Bretonian.

The hooded man stopped in his stride, and considered his words.
Finally he spoke.
"Maxwell Benningfield, it's been a while."
"Begging your pardon, I do not believe we've been acquainted?"

A soft sign could be heard.
"He killed me." The hooded man replied.
Maxwell's eyes slowly grew wide, stunned in silence he sat down again.
The hooded man returned to his ship and disembarked.

"Well... That was unexpected." Benningfield said to no one in particular, and ordered a drink, then made it a double.

His ship vanished again as he headed back to Almere.
His business was done, now the play can continue.

The large conference room was filled and in chaos.
General directors from all divisions of the Mercury Foundries were in heated debate with one another.
Some had briefcases, others merely holding a pad.
Each one had an important role, and each one was eager to get back to their jobs.
Azriel took a seat at the head of the table.

"Vice President Storm." One man exclaimed over the murmur.
The room fell silent.
"This meeting is as untimely as it is inconvenient."

"And I apologize, but I assure you in lieu of today's events..."
"Yeah what happened anyway?" Someone interrupted.
Azriel glanced at the insulant man with a sharp glare, he quickly fell silent, but someone else picked up the pace.
"The rumormill is going nuts, something about Seraphine getting shot? Actually shot?"

And with that comment did the chatter continue.
Azriel sighed and listened.
They were discussing all manner of business, industrial exploits, patent laws, strategic deployments, one even advocated a preemptive strike, but could not specify against who.
There was a vile undercurrent however, a measure of hostility and a struggle for dominion.

"Gentlemen, whatever the situation is..." Azriel started, slowly gaining the attention of the crowd again.
"... We need to continue on with our work, now more then ever before. We'll need some damage control on Manhatten, get some media spin going, we..."
"Mister Storm, please. We're all major shareholders here and I think we know how to conduct our business perfectly well, thank you."
The dismissive tone in the mam's voice stunned Azriel into silence.
A few men chuckled mildly, some nodded in agreement.

Azriel took a few calming breaths, slowly reaching for a concealed knife beneath the table.
If they continued on like this, there may not be a tomorrow for the Foundries' higher-ups.

"Now please, go back to training your soldiers and let us do what we do best."

Azriel's face became rigid, a cold steely determination set in as he clenched his jaw and glared at the offensive man across the table.
This provocateur would die, he would meet his end right here right now, they would not be permitted to...
His line of thought was interrupted by a loud thunderous voice, cutting through all the noise.
"When I made Azriel the Vice President of the mercury foundries, I did so with the authority included!"

The men around the table jumped up at the sudden noise, looking around and at each other.
'Nobody looks up' Azriel thought, a smile returning to his face.
He was still clutching the small dagger, and maintained his seat.
Outside the room they heard one of the soldiers posted there shout.
A faint scuffle, then a thud.
A moment later they heard a rifle fire, another thud matched with the clatter of probably that same rifle dropping to the tile floor.

The doors slid open, a man in a mantle and hood entered the large room with a firm steady stride.
He walked around, and stopped just off Azriel's side.

"Who are you?" one of the men asked.
'already asked him that.' Azriel thought.

"I didn't miss anything, did I?" the hooded man asked Azriel.
"Not yet." he replied, pulling out the dagger and placing it on the table in front of him.

The room suddenly fell entirely quiet, as all the men stared at the blade.
It's blade was pointing right at Azriel's intended victim, a not-too-subtle hint as to his intent.

One of them glanced back at the still-open doorway.
There were two soldiers stationed there, and both of them lay flat on the ground, motionless.

"Gentlemen." the hooded man started.
"I have asked you gathered here to announce a new direction for the Mercury Foundries.
We need to diversify our fleet, expand our reach, branch out in all possible business ventures.
Already our military strength is on-par with most private security firms, we have the capability to rival even the houses Major."

"And who are you to make this decision?!" one of the men remarked.

"Of course." the hooded man replied.
"You've all heard the stories, what happened on Manhatten isn't a rumor, it's fact. I am here..."
He raised his hands, taking a hold of his hood.
Gently he pulled it back, revealing a face familair to all.
Long dark hair fell free as the hood dropped back.
"I am here to tell you I am not in fact dead."

The room broke out in gasps and murmurs once more.
Deetex placed both his hands on the table with a sharp slap.
Silence once more.

"Gentlemen, we are at the dawn of a new age, we have the makings of unrivalled supremacy. Today's assasination attempt was but the mere cries of a frightened child scared of the unknown, we must branch out, spread our wings and encompass all we can."

He took a seat next to Azriel, picking up the small dagger and handing it back to his brother.
"What do you suggest, sir?" the General Director of shipping asked nervously.
"begin by increasing the production of starship componments, specifically for our own starships. We'll need additional shipyards to maintain production levels for foreign designs."
He turned to his Diplomatic officer, a young woman with a true talent for getting through to people and getting what she wanted.
"Selene, I want you to get in touch with your contacts inside the Liberty and Bretonian governments, pull every string, collect every debt, call every favor in, we need building permits, shipping lanes, everything.
Nicolay, see if your contacts among the Bountyhunter's guild might have a few hands willing to enter full-time employment, we're going to need a lot of Aces and wing commanders."
"Right away sir."

"Azriel, go to Rheinland and aproach Chancellor Fuchs, a face to face will yield more favorable results than a letter or communique I'd wager."

"Think he'll let us drain their resources just like that?"
"Maybe you should ask nicely." the Director of Arms remarked, his colleagues chuckled.

Deetex and Azriel paid him no heed.

"Then there is the matter of our current rival, Infinity Incorporated..."
At the drop of that name the room went silent once again.
All eyes were now on Deetex, who folded his hands together and steepled his fingers.

"These are forces not to be taken lightly, they will resist, they will struggle, they will exploit every single legal loophole they can find and believe me there are many."

"Not a problem sir." the head attorney replied.
"You leave them to me and mine."

"Lets clean our house first, Azriel?" Deetex continued, nodding to Azriel.
In a flash the Vice President got up, dagger glinting in the light.
With a swift gesture, he threw the sharp blade at the Chief Financial officer, who was quiet all through the meeting but otherwise a very vocal man.
The thrown dagger found it's target, sinking the entire length of the blade in his throat.
The officer gasped, sputtered, grasping at the knife but could not get it out.
After a second of gurgles he finally did collapse, slumping forward over the table.
Slowly a puddle of his blood spread, staining his fine suit and some of the papers he had in front of him.

In stunned silence the rest of the men and women stared.
Azriel sat back down, the hint of a smug smile on his face.

"I will no longer tolerate infiltrators, as we speak my Paladins and special forces are hunting them all down."
He pressed a button on the table, a monitor flickered on and a list of names appeared.
The list was very long, and as they watched they noticed some names had already been crossed out, then more and more.

"You have your orders, this meeting is adjourned."
Deetex got up and left, pausing at the doorway.
"Azriel, come with me please, we have something else to discus I believe."

The two men marched down a long series of hallways, passing by people and patrolling soldiers without a clear heading or destination.
Deetex looked around as they walked, peering out windows, greeting passerbys with a smile, shaking hands and easing at mind those who heard the story.

Finally they reached a stretch within the Citadel that was devoid of life.
The stark marble walls and floor echoed slightly, making their footfalls sound all the more clear.

"So what did actually happen down there?" Azriel asked.
"Ah yes, the craving to explain the unknown..." Deetex replied.
They stopped at a window, Deetex leaned against the post and looked his brother over.

With a sigh he began his story.
"Yes, I did get shot and killed, and yes I tok my body to a distant planet, left it in the care of someone I trust with my life as indeed I have... and yes, I am not from this time."

Azriel looked at him sceptically.

"I know that look, it's the same look you gave me when we started the Black Merx, you didn't think we'd pull that one off either."

"And in all fairness, we didn't, the Merx ended up horribly."

"Oh I wouldn't say that, Presidential secret service isn't too bad of an assignment."

"Brainwashed and neutered, more machine than man, and they were my men." Azriel replied, a measure of scorn in his voice.
"I know you opposed the Grey Paladin project from the moment of it's inception, but as then I ask you now to trust me, and I need you for something else building on from those steppingstones."

"What do you mean?"
Deetex raised his hand, palm up and spread his fingers.
An implanted miniaturized holo projector activated, thin glowing lines branched out from his palm to the tips of his fingers.
The image of a ship appeared, a wide, flat, sharply angular vessel that bore some similarity to a Leviathan but very different.

"My predecessor thankfully saw wisdom in constructing another shipyard in a hidden location, once we have access to the materials we need I plan to construct this vessel, it is to be your flagship, one I expect you to command along with your men when the time comes."

Azriel didn't reply, merely staring at the small projection in front of him, letting out a faint whistle in appreciation.
The long flat hull and wings had something menacing about them. 
He could see various openings and bays, a line of tiny dots coated the sides of the wings and lower hull, all marked with a small bit of text in a script he could not decypher.
Two massive engines extended from behind the wings, and on top of it sat an armored bulge he could only summize would be the bridge.
Deetex closed his hand, the hologram faded.

"So where is this shipyard anyway?" he finally asked.

"In a safe spot, fully automated and entirely beyond the reach of anyone but me and those I take with me."

"Damnit Dee, will you give me a straight answer already?"

Deetex stared out the window, gazing at the vast view this high up allowed him.
He saw the bounds of the small city, the capitol of this world, saw how it would grow in the months to come, he saw the green grassy plains beyond the city borders and imagined great vessels coming down from the stars and landing there.
A squadron of soldiers marched by far down below, and he could see them being but the first of a massive contingent ready for war at a moment's notice.

"It's in Zero-space..." he finally replied.
"An entire shipyard? Impressive."

Deetex stood up straight and gestured to the far end of the hallway.
"Come, I have many projects that we need to undertake, the sooner we start, the better."