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


"Warfront"

 

Two years later.

 

Mercury Capitol Vessel Belarathon, Borderspace southern region, 
Patrol line zeta-3.


The bridge of the Belarathon was quiet and stuffy, it's crew tired and bored.
The mighty vessel had been on patrol for almost 6 months now, six months flying slowly along a predefined line in space taking readings, making tallies, keeping the peace.

'Combat border patrol' was the official term, duty officers referred to it as Neighborhood watch, but the Bridge crew had quietly dubbed it the Slowmo cruise.
Hardly anything ever happened here, there were no asteroid belts, no space stations or trade lanes, the nearest planetoid was a few dozen lightyears inside friendly territory.
The region wasn't even a contested zone, but some arbitrary bureaucrat decided that this particular line here had to be the border.

Oh sure every now and again a rogue element decided to flee law enforcement craft and head in this general direction, but a single mid-range fighter could not possibly hope to stand up against the brutal glory of a Mercury Foundries Leviathan class capitol ship.
Come to think of it, there weren't many larger ships that could match strength either.


The Belarathon was one of the youngest in it's class, fresh from the Zephyr shipyards and matched it's crew in inexperience.
A second generation Leviathan, honeycomb layered armor, modular crew compartments, enhanced munition stores and far more efficient engines and reactors made it the pride of the fleet, a true marvel of modern engineering and as a symbol of the company's capabilities it shined through.
So far the only combat the ship saw had been a minor skirmish with a smuggler and two Wargames against another Leviathan, both of which had ended in a pyrrhic victory.
It was an abysmal existence for such a wonderful ship.
Other mark2's had been more fortunate, extensive battles against Infinity Inc's Beta class battlecruiser, and all ended in an overwhelming victory for the Foundries, Infinity being unable to defeat the Leviathan's incredible shields.

The captain checked his clock, 58 minutes had passed.
"Anything on sensors yet?" he asked with a sigh.

"Still nothing Sir, just a few chucks of rock and ice out there, interstellar hydrogen levels slightly above normal, background radiation below tolerance". the sensor operator replied, equally bored.

"Long range scans?" 
"Nothing but more rocks and gas Sir."

"Alright, maintain heading and speed... I'm going for a coffee, anyone else want something?"
The bridgecrew politely declined.

With another sigh he got up from his central command chair and slumped over to the doorway at the rear of te bridge.
The canteen was just as muffled as the bridge, clearly the crew was tired of this long assignment.
"Good morning captain, what can I get you?" The chef asked.
He was always too damn chipper for captain Braxton's likings, but he smiled back and asked for the usual.
"Coffee, double strong."

The chef handed him a steel mug and got back to his cutting board and vegetables.
While the crew of 2000 had to make due with combat rations, at least the senior officers were treated to a decent meal three times a day.
In theory the mark2 leviathan could be equipped with expansive hydroponics bays and further crew comforts, the Belarathon featured no such luxury.

Braxton took his coffee and stood at the oversized viewport, quietly staring at the stars ahead.

Minutes passed as he merely stood there sipping his brew.
Something glinted in the distance.
He peered out, trying to find it again.
"Huh..." He muttered.
Just when he was about to look away something very far away lit up.
A tiny dot, barely visible against the backdrop of distant stars, but almost imperceptibly growing brighter... Growing closer.

He put his mug down and reached for his comm unit.
"Bridge, Braxton, anything on long range?"

"You're early sir, last checkup was less then 15 minutes ago."
"I'm serious, anything off our port?"

"Checking now sir."

There was a brief silence, the captain watched on as the ominous little blip grew brighter.

"Sir, long range scans are clear, there's nothing out there."

"Shipwide alert, shields to full, I'm coming back up."

He left his mug on the table and quickly made his way out of the officer's mess.
Just as the doors slid shut behind him, other people had noticed the anomaly outside.

Closer and closer, until they could make out the elongated contour of a gleaming missile heading straight towards them.

The captain had just reached the bridge when the missile struck, piercing through the shields with no effort.
The nose of the warhead flickered and pulsed as it passed through the layers of the Belarathon's barriers, striking the outer hull fast and hard.
An explosion followed, a massive fireball erupted scorching the hull, the mighty ship shook and heaved.

Captain Braxton was nearly thrown across the bridge, tripping over the violent force as he reached his chair.

"REPORT!" he yelled as the bridge was instantly shaken out of it's sleepy state.
"High yield warhead from unknown origin."
"Were our shields even up, how did it pass through them?"

"Track it's tail and find me a point of origin, where did that thing come from!" the captain yelled.

The overhead sensor readouts changed, rotating through various frequencies and modulations, screens with sweeping lines frantically peering out there.

"Nothing on sensors, no scanner readouts, sir"

Braxton pondered for a second, then straightened in his chair.
"Full stop, fire up the Pulse sensors, lets take a good look out there."

One of the Mark2's newest technologies was a type of sensor that hadn't been used for centuries, a high density omnidirectional pulse was produced by the ship's shields that could reach out almost half a lightyear far, anything physical it encountered would be lit up like a star, which the ship's secondary sensors would easily detect and pinpoint.
The only flaw in the system was how easily the pulse could be fooled, and how invariably the pulse could be tracked down to it's point of origin.
'Derived from an active Sonar, used in maritime warfare' he was told.

"Pulse ready sir." the sensor operator reported.

A brief pause brought a chilling silence to the bridge.
Braxton leaned forward, keeping his eyes on the overhead monitor showing a small outline of his ship and sensor readings around it.

"Now."

The Belarathon's shields shimmered for a second, becoming brighter and opaque.
A second later a massive energy surge pulsed out from all around the ship, an ever expanding bubble of faint shimmering energy.

The crew watched anxiously as the displays in front and above them showed the outline of the pulse branching out, marking out any stray object it encountered and filtering out false positives.

Minutes passed as the pulse expanded.

Another blip appeared, again to the port side of the ship.
The captain peered out of the viewport, and sure enough saw the same flash he saw earlier.

"Bring us about, heading nine three by three four zero."

"Sir, the pulse reading hasn't finished yet, if we move now we could lose resolution."
Braxton stared at the distant dot, as before growing brighter as it drew closer.
They'd only have a few minutes to bring the giant Belarathon around, if he could guide his vessel into the projectile's path there was a chance, a small change that it would miss.

"I can't get a lock on it, no energy readings, no Radar signature, it's there but it's not there."

"Helm, lean the ship in, get ready to punch it." the captain ordered resolutely.
"Just a few more minutes..." the sensor operator muttered.

"This is going to be a close one..."

They looked on at the distant bright dot grew closer and closer, the shimmering contour of it's nose becoming recognizable.

"Got something, large artificial contact fourtyseven million kilometers off our port, heading zero one zero by three eight!" the sensor op yelled.
"Helm, engines to full!" the captain barked.

Massive amounts of raw power surged through the ship to the engines, the Belarathon bolted forward before turning and diving down.
The glowing warhead soared past the ship, passing through the shields with demonstrated easy and scraping along the hull, scratching the Belarathon's painted nameplate, then through the energy barriers again at the ship's aft.
As it passed the secondary layer of shielding for the second time, the pulsing tip of the warhead faded.
Suddenly the Belarathon's shields became functional again, the outer most layer thickened and the fractal fields intensified, trapping the warhead in a strong web and crushing the propulsion housing.
The warhead detonated, the blazing inferno scattered along the many irregularly shaped energy fields and faded into nothing.

"What just happened?" Captain Braxton asked, as he looked at the shield matrix readout.

"I'm not sure, maybe a timed detonation?"

"But the shields, both missiles passed right through them like they weren't even there and this one, our shields responded to it?"

"Helm, take us to that ping with all possible haste."


The giant ship's engines flared up brightly as they pushed the Belarathon on.
Two more flashes appeared in the distance.

"Get ready to roll." The captain ordered.
The missiles approached the mighty ship, swarming around each other in their flight.
The Belarathon rolled sharply around its axis as they came in range, again passing through the shields and missing the hull.
Both warheads detonated next to the ship's hull, a smaller explosion this time but sending a spray of small projectiles like stakes all around.
Those that spread outward got caught in the shields and were crushed harmlessly, but several dozen struck the hull and embedded themselves into the ship's armored spine and belly.

"What...." The captain started, but was interrupted as the ship rocked.
The embedded stakes all detonated in sequence.
In the blink of an eye both rows tore a bright gash of fire along the ship's structure, ripping two massive tears in the armor.
"Hull breach!" An engineer yelled.
Alarms sounded, several decks were decompressing.

"Get containment fields up, how far are we!"

"Almost in visual range, directional scans are in progress."

The ship had accelerated, gaining enormous speed but was now veering off course by the explosive decompression applying force along two unexpected angles, pushing the nose up.
"Compensating heading." The helmsmen remarked.

As the ship leveled, the crew could finally spot their attacker.
A massive vessel holding position, the sharp silver grey hull was elongated and flanked by two small hulls, then massive skirts on either side.
They could see rows upon rows of launch doors, four aimed directly forward, and over a dozen on the joining section between the hulls and it's flank.

"What is that?" Someone asked.
"I don't recognize the configuration."
"That thing is huge!"

Braxton stared at it, trying to recall this from any of his past missions or briefings.
There was nothing in the corporate information backs that even remotely came close to this, let alone anything whom's weapons could wreak so much havoc.

"Bring weapons online and open fire!" He ordered.

"Powergrid is damaged, forward particle cannons aren't responding."
"Arming torpedoes."

The unknown vessel's engines fired up, the ship slowly moved forward, quietly creeping past the Belarathon.

It's many missile bays opened up, spewing forth hundreds of smaller fast moving warheads.
They travelled straight up, hundreds more emerged from underneath it.
After a second they all collectively started swarming and turned to the injured Leviathan.

Captain Braxton stood up, standing at attention as he watched the missiles quickly approaching them.
"Gentlemen, it's been an honor." He said quietly.

The missiles passed through the shields and struck the Belarathon's hull, piercing armor and detonating in clustered groups, tearing away entire sections from the nose and wings.
Another group struck the side of the hull, blasting a massive hole exposing the munition stores.
More missiles sought out the aft of the ship, incinerating the shuttlebay and engines.
The unknown vessel launched two pairs of larger warheads from it's forward bays, they accelerated slowly and made a wide arc around both ships before gaining sufficient speed.
All four warheads headed straight for the crippled ship, unaffected by the barely functional shields.

They struck the large opened sections and exploded.
 Inside the Belarathon the stores detonated, the powergrid overloaded and secondary explosions dotted the ship's remaining exterior.
Only a moment later did the ship's main reactor gave way, a massive fireball erupted from the bow, turning the Belarathon's entire powergrid into an explosive net.
The massive vessel broke apart, a secondary explosion followed sending fragments of the ship far and wide.

The unknown vessel closed it's launch bays and retreated, heading back to parts unknown.

 

 

Deetex stood alone in the center of a large training room, breathing quietly, his head bowed down.
At his feet lay two training drones utterly destroyed, long gashes along their torsoes, limbs severed and a single gaping hole in each unit's head.

Two more drones stood a short distance in front of him, each one armed with four arms ending in a long curved blade.
One drone took a few steps forward and stood defensive, the other slowly started walking around.

Deetex raised his own sword, the curved blade gleaming brightly in the artificial light.
The front drone lept forward, two blades crossed and two raised, ready to strike.
Stepping to the side Deetex dodged the blades and send his own sword up, scraping the tip along the drone's back.
He spun around, bringing his sword in front and blocking the other drone's sweeping strike.
With his offhand he brought up his pistol and fired two shots at the other drone's back, sending the dazed training unit reeling with the force of impact.

With lightning fast reflexes he parried the remaining drone's four swords, the clattering of their blades a deafening orchestra.
After a minute he saw an opening.
He blocked another attempted sweep high, then turned his blade and slapped the drone's sword away.
Diving down, he punched the drone's thigh making it collapse slightly, then rolled away as the other drone from behind brought down two blades.
The unit misjudged it's swing, plunging both blades into the side of the first drone's head.

Getting up again, he aimed his pistol at the remaining drone and fired, striking the drone first in the chest, then four more shuts against the joints of each arm, then one more shot for good measure against it's head.

A bell rang, the simulation ended.
The walls and ornament all around him faded and disappeared, the artificial lighting grew brighter until at normal daylight levels.

He sheathed his sword beneath his longcoat, sliding the long curved blade in it's dedicated pocket in Zerospace.
Any observer would see the sword disappearing into nothingness, but those few privy to the technical specifications of his longcoat would know better.
His pistol made a few clicking sounds, then shattered into dozens of small individual pieces and quickly slid into his sleeve, again to hide in Zerospace.

The discovery of Dimension compression was made only a few decades ago, an incredibly well kept secret known only to Deetex, his brother and the absolute top echelons of the corporate leadership.
Discovering it was one thing, mastering the technology required to make actual practical use of it was a feat achieved only by Deetex himself, and he used that knowledge to hide zerospace compressors all throughout his longcoat.
Then there were the rumors that the Mercury Foundries had a secret shipyard hidden somewhere.
Nobody ever found it, or any trace thereof, giving birth to even more extravagant rumors that it was hidden in Zerospace as well.

Somebody behind him clapped his hands slowly.

Deetex turned, his coat swirling.

"You know, those drones aren't cheap to procure." Azriel commented.
"Then maybe it's time we started producing them ourselves."

"Another venture for the ever growing Mercury Foundries commercial exploits?" Azriel asked teasingly.

"And why not? We've already made considerable advances in nano engineering and artificial intelligence, these Aegis brand units can barely keep up with our rank and file as it is."

The two men headed for the training room's exit.
"I came to tell you, there's been a development, we lost contact with the Belarathon."

"Any idea what happened?"

"Not yet, I've dispatched a group of frigates along its last known coordinates, they should arrive in a few hours."

"hmmm" Deetex hummed in reply.
He didn't quite like that phrasing, 'should arrive in hours'.
Space travel was slow, even with modern Cruise-capable engines and Jumpgates, it still took an abysmal amount of time to get anywhere.
Even though they had access to a form of instantaneous travel, the Singularity Jump drive, it was like taking a blind leap into the void of nothing with unpredictable results if there wasn't a locator beacon present at the intended destination.
They would have to develop something for that as well, and Deetex knew exactly what and when to begin.

The Titanic class frigate was another new generation vessel, smaller than a cruiser but bigger than a gunboat, long range and capable of sustained flight for extended periods on end.

They reached the city's central command room, like the bridge of a starship the cylindrical room was dotted with communication stations, starcharts, sensor posts, all the trappings of a central hub from which the entire fleet was coordinated.
On the second level more stations and officers were placed more sparingly, these were the posts for more domestic roles, the planet's infrastructure and industries, municipal allotment and civil upkeep.

Deetex and Azriel took a stand around the central table, a large round display showing the general layout of the Sirius colonies.
Various red lines were projected indicating patrol patterns, green ones for shipping lanes and a polygonal blue dotted outline showed the current borders around their claimed territory.

A lieutenant joined them, placing a small data module on the table.
Several lines appeared around it, the table interfacing with the module.

"The Belarathon was last reported along this line here, Zeta-3, and heading south."
He touched a particular patrol line, a dot appeared beneath his finger and moved along the line.

"Last sensor readings we got for her suggests they deviated from their course and headed in this direction."
He swiped his finger along the table, the little red dot detached from the patrol line and slowly moved away.

"That's when we lost contact" Azriel added.

"And the frigates?" Deetex asked.

"Right here, they've already reached the last known confirmed heading and are now performing sweeps of the immediate area."
The Lieutenant marked three smaller dots on the map, each dot with a small information tag connected to it.

Azriel continued to ask the young officer more questions about the Belarathon while Deetex leaned against the table, staring at the map.
After a minute he straightened and started to leave.
"Tell them to extend their search to one lightyear, notify me as soon as they find something."

"Where are you going?"

"I have to make a call to an old friend of ours."

He reached his private quarters in the Citadel of the city and locked the door.

Holding up one hand, holographic patterns line thin green and blue lines and circles danced over his eyes.
Similar patterns were projected around his upheld hand and arm.

"Secure communication, Benningfield." he said into the empty room.

All around him the furniture of his living room shimmered and faded as he was encased in a holographic bubble, separating him from the outside world.
Inside the bubble, a different vista was shown him, he was standing on an open plain of grass.
A simulated wind softly picked up, blowing his longcoat and hair around.

He lowered his arm again, and looked at the other person there.

"Hello again Maxwell."

"Deetex, a pleasure as always, what can I do for you?" a man in a fine white suit replied.
Maxwell Benningfield got up from his leisure chair, it promptly disappeared behind him.

"We seem to have lost a ship today, you wouldn't happen to know anything about this would you?" Deetex asked, his face stony cold and rigid.

"No, not really, our next skirmish won't happen until next Tuesday if I remember the schedule correctly."

"You know, if you wanted to test out some new ordnance, you could've just told me, I would have send out a few drones instead."

"Now where's the fun in that, drone's don't panic in face of utter annihilation... anyone on that ship I knew?"

"Braxton." Deetex replied briefly.
Maxwell's sly grin faded, pausing in silence for a moment.

"That's a shame, I always did enjoy his wife's cooking."

"You realize of course..." Deetex began as he started pacing around.
"That if you deploy such weapons en-mass, we will respond in kind."

Maxwell's grin returned, a devious gleam in his eye appeared.

"Bring your best and do your worst, we'll await the dawn with which you ride."
Maxwell waved at something, his hologram disappeared and the simulated environment faded.

Deetex stood alone again in the middle of his room, furniture untouched.

A mere moment later his comm unit beeped, incoming transmission from the command center.

"Dee, it's Azriel, the scouts found her, you're not going to like this, she's been..."

"Yes I know, destroyed, where there any ships detected in the area?"

"Negative."

"Tell them to retrieve the Belarathon's Blackbox and return to base at soon as humanly possible, I'm on my way up."

It didn't take him long to reach the command center again, the highly efficient public transit system in place took him halfway across the city in a matter of minutes and dropped him off almost right in front of the entrance.
He barged into the main command room, drawing attention to himself.

"Ready our vanguard fleet and withdraw all outstanding forces to their designated safety zones."

"Sir?" another lieutenant asked confused.

"Prepare yourselves..." He paused for effect.
"For war."

 

The little sun shone brightly on the distant planetoid.
Dressed in a pale singlesuit, the young man walked out the garden carrying a spade and a bag of cement.

He marched on past the young woman dressed the same without saying a word.
His light gait made barely a sound, but she noticed him anyway.

"Where do you think you're going?"

She got up from her vegtable garden and brushed some dirt from her sleeves.

"And what are you planning with that?"

She caught up with him and tugged at his suit, stopping him.
Jabbing a finger in the bag, she looked up in surprise.

"Just what do you think you're doing?" she asked again.

He tilted his head slightly and smiled.
"You'll see." he answered teasingly.

She let go of him and returned to her garden.
"Dinner's at 7, don't be late." she yelled after him as he marched on.

There was a small groundcar waiting just outside the town walls.
He loaded up the bag and threw the spade in the codriver's seat.

With the flick of a switch the small engine powered up, promptly he left the town behind him.

He drove for what felt like hours before finally reaching his goal.
A small patch of dirt in the middle of nowhere.
Some other tools and machines were already present, he had moved them there in days gone past.

Stopping the car next to a odd machine with a large drum on a rotary platform, he took the bag and poured it's contents in the drum.

Next he grabbed a container filled with fuids and added it to the mix.
Pulling a lever, the drum tilted at an angle and began churning the mixture.
It would be a short while before this was ready, so he returned to the car and took the spade.

He took a few scoops of dirt from the ground and tossed it away.
Slowly but surely an excavated circle took shape and expanded.
Almost a hundred meters square if not more of flat, muddy ground lay exposed.

He plunged the spade into the ground exactly in the middle of the circle, and headed for the tumbling machine.
Taking a hold of the machine's frame with both hands, he stopped for a moment.

Letting go of the machine again, he flipped the switch stopping it's motion.
Grabbing the drum with only one hand, he took the massive container from the frame and carried it with a single hand to the pit without so much a sigh or a grunt.

He poured out the pale sludge and spread it evenly in a thin layer over the ground.

"There... "he muttered to himself.

"A foundation made."

 

 

Space had never before been this crowded above Almere Prime.
From every corner of the colonies the fleet had gathered.
Some older mark1 Leviathans were treated with priority and guided to any available birth for refitting, while others were holding a stationairy orbit around the planet awaiting resupply.

Center to them all was the black colored leviathan the Midnight Falls, completely dark and deserted it's automated systems kept it from colliding with it's bretheren.

Never before had the APOS, the Almere Prime Orbital Shipyard performed it's job with such haste.
Most of the facilities were automated, robotic arms and nanoscopic assemblers performed their jobs infinitely more efficient then a human worker with a welder, but humans were still kept on the job for the finer details.

One of the drydocks attached to the APOS was largely vacant, the skeletal frame of a new ship was about to be put together.
Reports had poured in on more ships list while on patrol, like the Belarathon there were no warnings, no reports and only debris found when inspected.

It was almost starting to look like a design flaw in the mark2 Leviathan.

"Time proven Battleships don't just blow up!" Azriel had yelled at his officers.
"I want answers!"
And then... his answer came.
A sole survivor, the MCV Perseus and it's crew returned to Almere via their Singularity drive limping and barely intact, but carrying with it visual confirmation and extensive sensor readings on what was happening to the ships of the line.

The recording of events played on all the overhead monitors in the central command chamber, for all the attending officers and directors to see, they bore witness to a long silver and white ship armed to the teeth with missile launchers and torpedo bays.
The Perseus managed to get the drop on the hostile vessel as it was cruising to a patrol line, and riddled it's bow with blasts from the Leviathan's primary particle cannons.
Very little actual damage was done, the enemy ship was very well armored and incredibly sturdy, and fast.
"Remarkable speed for such a large vessel." an engineer remarked.
"Wouldn't mind taking a peek at those engines some day..."

One of the more significant developments the Mercury Foundries had made were new engine types, Force reactor turbines as they were called.
Cruise-capable, some even atmospheric flight enabled, and incredibly fuel efficient, the most important feature was that no actual Thrust was produced but rather a more pure from of applied directional force was projected, and could be angled up to 45 degrees in any direction from the exhaust nuzzle, and even fully reversed.
They were efficient and powerfull, but there was still the ship's own mass the compensate for.

The colonies had benefitted greatly from the advances they made, and in return the Mercury Foundries as corporation gained much influence and favor amongst it's clients and even it's rivals... All except one.

"Infinity Incorporated..." Azriel spat the name.
"Alpha class battleship, long range missile platform." Deetex replied.

They watched on as the long gleaming battleship pulled away from the Perseus and launched a volley of missiles.
The small warheads swarmed around before heading straight for the Leviathan.
Perseus rolled and heaved, trying to avoid the incoming barrage and caught only a few.
Even those few missiles that did strike true passed through the Perseus' shields as though not even present, the tips of their warheads pulsing faintly with energy.

"What kind of warheads do you think those are?"

"I'm more concerned with the impact they're having, passing through shields is one thing but such small munitions shouldn't be having this effect on Brenidium armor."

The Alpha ship pulled further away, sending another swarm of light missiles and several torpedoes racing towards the damaged Perseus.
In an act of desperation the Perseus turned and rolled, bringing the entire topside of the ship in sight, as well as it's entire battery of point defense turrets.
A hailstorm of randomly targetted bolts of plasma sprayed forth towards the incoming swarm, intercepting missile after missile detonating them harmlessly in space.
As the torpedoes aproached the turrets focussed their fire, manually targeted by dozens of gunnery soldiers, seeking out and destroying the deadly projectiles.

Only a single missile broke through the barrage and struck the hull in front of the bridge.

Many turrets lost, more now limp for lack of a controlling hand until the computer system rewired their guidance to another available soldier.

The Perseus fired it's engines, pulling away from the far away attacker.
Another volley of torpedoes aproached the ship, but before the first one could impact the Perseus activated it's Singularity drive and vanished in a flash.

Not only had the ship returned safely baring terrible news, one of the torpedoes had been caught in it's wake and drifted along behind it.
It remained undetected for days until a civilian with a powerful telescope, a novelty on a planet enclosed in a hollow cloud of Darkmatter, discovered it drifting in limbo.

The torpedo was a sleek, stealthy bomb designed to pierce armor and detonate within a target.
It's propulsion system was of a previous generation, a simple ignition thruster with vectoring capabilities, turbo charged so it could fly far and very fast.
Only the very tip of the warhead was of any genuine interest, the very reason why these missiles passed through shields like they weren't even there... and sadly the circuitry and compoments had all fused into a single unusable mess.

"Well at least we gained something." Azriel had remarked to a disappointed engineer.
"Sir?"

"We have one of their weapons, sensor readings, material scans... now we can see what they're throwing at us."

"... and They don't know we can." the Captain of the Perseus added.
"This gives us a tactical advantage."


Every ship was being recalled, new sensors installed and anywhere a free spot was found, a point defense turret was placed.
"A Close-in weapon system, we hadn't needed one of those for centuries." Azriel remarked.

Even the Behemoth class, a normally utilitarian cruiser not designed for combat was being retrofitted with additional beam emitters and armor.
Some where even changed into troop carriers.

An adjudant entered the room and handed Deetex a data pad.
"Sir, another formal complaint from House Liberty..."

Deetex sighed, skimming over the listed grievances.
"More complaints about the amount of starship compomenents being reassigned from commercial products to our own requirements..."
"Another?" Azriel asked.
"They're threatening with an embargo if we keep this up." The adjudant replied.

"They've done that before, our terms of service cover these redirects don't they?"

Deetex put the pad down.
"I'll go have a talk with President Tolderian in person, we'll sort something out. worse comes to worse we may have to move the Zephyr shipyards a bit further down those shipping lanes."

The adjudant looked up in shock.
"Sir, that will place Zephyr in disputed territory, that's Xeno territory."

"Like he said, worse comes to worse." Azriel shushed, and dismissed the aid.

The Zephyr shipyards were located along a trade route between Liberty and Rheinland space, a favorable position receiving materials from both Major House's chief industries, electronics from north, raw metals and ordenance from south, and producing foreign designed ships with superior efficiency.
Outsourcing was still a factor and most forces would agree that the quality delivered by the mercury Foudries was on-par, if not better than what the major powers could produce themselves.
The deal was made even better by the fact the Zephyr shipyards used the same level of automation as the APOS did, thus ensuring incredible levels of production output.

It made sense that all involved parties would prefer to be treated with hightened levels of priority, especially in these trying times where tensions rose and alliances changed overnight.
There was a short period where Infinity Inc and the Mercury Foundries were allies, sharing research and resources, providing the colonies with great swaths of development and new technology.
Then it happened, the Foundries had full access to all of Infinity's bases and stations, but refused to reciprocate, keeping the location of their homeplanet a secret and shielding certain details about new technology from prying eyes.
Or perhaps Infinity had staged everything, giving the Foundries just enough leeway to grow and sow the seeds of it's own destruction.
They HAD after all secretly developed ships and weapons that threaten the mighty Leviathan class.


The Raven left it's landing pad and quickly rose above the capitol planet's atmosphere.
Now came the tricky part, circumnavigating the veritable maze of battleships cruisers and floating parts.
Deetex interfaced with the Raven's propulsion and sensors, his mind linked with Raven's computer and took the helm.

Like a fish in water the streamlined ship dove and turned, picking up speed as it twisted around ships and parts with impossible finesse.

He felt he was being watched, so for good measure he performed some extravagant manuevres, a corkscrew here, a flip there, finally reaching the clearing he needed he punched the ship's engines to full and bolted away in a blaze.
The Raven was one of only a few ships that could pass through the Darkmatter barrier surrounding the Almere system with impunity.
Eveything around the ship went dark as the ship was engulved with the deadly matter.
Groaning with the straign on the hull, the Raven emerged again after a few minutes and headed for Liberty space.

In a flash, the Raven vanished along the folds of space, racing for planet Manhatten in the blink of an eye.

 

The man returned with his groundcar later that night.
Heading for their small cottage, he saw the woman, dressed in normal clothes standing at the doorway, her face betraying an unpleasant mood.

"You're late, again." she said when he came in earshot.

"I know, I'm sorry."

"One of these days you're going to have to show me what you're doing out there."

"And one of these days, I will."

He walked up to her and kissed her on the cheek.
She embraced him, wrapping her slender arms around him.

"Come, dinner is ready."

The little town was quiet most of the time, people scattered around and socialized little, everybody enjoyed their privacy.
So much so they barely ever had guests, so dinner was informal and often simple, just some vegtables she grew herself, occasionally some piece of meat from the butchershop whenever he had a new shipment, never anything fancy.
This night however, was different.
After he washed up, he saw his formal wear layed out over his bed.
Gazing at it for a moment, he deciced to wear it, a good suit always made him feel good about himself.

As he stepped into the living room he noticed the lighting was dimmer, warmer.
He glanced over the dining table, saw three candles lit and noticed a bottle of wine in the middle.
A pair of plates with utencils neatly arranged, folded napkips on either side and a matching pair of wine glasses.

"Hey" her voice from behind him.
He turned and gasped, there before him stood a perfect picture of beauty.

There she stood, dressed in a gown that made him stare in awe.
Her hair was bound in a long braid and draped over one shoulder, a small flower bound over her wrist.
The formfitting dress was a deep blue and accented her perfect figure beautifully.
She stood a few centimeters higher he noticed, glancing down he saw she was wearing high heels, a first.

"You look stunning." He managed to say after a long pause.
This caused her to blush, awkwardly she gestured to the table.

As they walked towards the small dining table, she grabbed a piece of paper from a cubboard and placed it on one of the plates.
He quickly made his way around the table, and pulled a chair out for her.
She took a seat, and he followed suit.

"So what brought this about?" He asked, still staring at her.
Like a lovestruck schoolboy he couldn't keep his eyes from her, she was breathtaking.

"Let's have some wine first" she teased, reaching for the bottle and handing it to him.
He peeled off the seal and pushed a corkscrew in, pulling it out with a swift jerk it gave a loud pop.
Pouring only a small amount in a glass, he looked intently at it, stealing another glance at her through the glass.
Swirling the liquid he inspected it, it looked very pure, no muck or mess in it.
Carefully smelling it, it's auroma was full and sweet, satisfied so far he took a tiny sip.
The fluid was rich and robust, a very faint alcoholic tang was almost drowned out by the richness of the flavor.

"A fine vintage, made by one who loves his craft." he said.
Taking another sip, he noticed she was staring intently at him as well, a glimmer of amazement in her beautiful lavender eyes.

"It borders on sweet, made from a red grape not local to this starsystem, where did you get this?" he concluded, putting the glass down.

"We had a visitor this afternoon..." she started.
Instantly he was alert, could this be the mysterious stranger he remembered so vaguely?

"One of the Baron's aids dropped it off delivering this." she finished, handing him the paper.
It was a formal letter, a candlewax seal was pressed at the bottom, and the local Baron's signature next to it.

He quickly read through the letter, it was a formal invitation to ball that was planned a week from now.
What's more it was hand written and individually addressed, the local regent had personally invited them both over.

He looked up in surprise, this was unexpected indeed.

"The aid gave the bottle as well, said it was a gift, how is it?"

He grabbed the bottle again, poured some wine in her glass and then added some more to his own.

"It is exquisit."

Just as he said that, the door to the kitchen flung open and a man dressed in royal service clothing stepped in, holding a plate with a silver dome covering on one hand.

Without a word he put the plate down next to the candles and lifted the silver dome.
The man looked in surprise at the servent, then at the fresh plate.
A large rack of meat, resting on a bedding of lush greenery was revealed, steaming a strong auroma and making his mouth water.

She giggled as she looked at him, seeing his surprised delight.
"Another gift from our Baron?" he asked.

She nodded in acknowledgement, then nodded to the servant, patiently standing by.

He glanced up, saw the unreadable expression of the servant, and realized what was wrong.
Quickly he put the letter away, then grabbed the napkin and covered his lap with it.

The servant finally moved, grabbing a large knife and carving the roast up in fine equal slices, serving both him and her the same portion.
He couldn't help but notice slight, barely visible difference in the servings, but decided to keep that to himself.

The servant finished his work, and stood at attention.
"Thank you, that is all." He stated.
The servant took a slight bow.
"Very well Sir, madam." he replied, and promptly left.

They started their dinner, enjoying the fine wine and matching feast, taking their time as they talked about various things.
Tonight was special, and they saw no reason to rush things.
The servant was there all night long, and catered to them like the professional that he was, his expression at all times exactly the same, unreadable.

 


Arriving at Manhatten, Deetex was greeted by the ever pleasant orbit traffic controller.
He introduced himself, and was immediately cleared to land.
"Your usual platform is ready and waiting, welcome back mister Seraphine."

He went through the process of passing the docking ring, then send the Raven in a steep descent down to the central city.
Without a hitch he placed the Raven perfectly on the docking plateau, and cut power to all systems.
The otherwise shimmering black hull went completely dull, all lights dimmed but for a few to guide guests to the exit.

He disembarked, pausing for a second to glance at the plaza, the spot where, not too long ago, he performed his deed.

There would be no such action today, he was sure of it... 
It wasn't part of the plan, after all.

As he marched through the city, making good time, he passed a shady figure he knew from days long past.
A freelancer by the name of Dante, he would have his part to play, but not yet.
Through his peripheral vision, he saw Dante meeting up with a woman at a bar.
Now he knew she would have a part to play soon, as he knew her.

Finally arriving at the presidential offices, he was greated by the secret service men and waved in, apparently he was expected.
A secretary guided him to the main office, not that he needed the aid but enjoyed the attention he was given anyway.

The door flung open before he reached it, Deetex stopped dead in his tracks as he saw who emerged from the office.
"Hello again Deetex." the man in the white suit greated him.

"Benningfield, always a pleasure." he replied.

They didn't exchange any more words, Benningfield quickly left again to parts unknown, and Deetex entered the office.
For good measure, he deliberately closed the doors.

"Mister Seraphine, right on time per the norm." the Liberty President stated.
A middleaged man, Aldus Tolderian still looked like a young man, hard around the edges but refined.
Ever since the Liberty government was overthrown by the then-disavowed Rogues, he made some very deep cutting changes to the way things were run, certain types of contraband were no longer illegal and healthcare and personal protection was significantly improved.
And he wrought the benefits from it, one of the richest individuals in the whole colony.

"President Tolderian, you're looking well." Deetex said, taking a seat across the desk.

"I take it your personal guards will be held at a leash this time around?"
He was referring to the Grey paladins, specifically their rampage two years ago.

"They are on assignment offworld, I am alone."

"On to business then, the Mercury Foundries has been unable to fulfill contractual obligations for a while now, and we're hard-pressed to accept your reasoning for it."
Straight to the point.

"A war is coming, Tolderian, a corporate war."

"Oh I'm sure it is, but you have to understand you can't just repurpose your entire inventory and leave your customers out in the cold, ever thought about asking for help?"

Deetex cocked his head sideways, feigning confusion.

"Yours has been our favorite contractor, you deliver, or used to deliver, some of the best technology and hardware for decades now, you have a very extensive clientelle and many of them would hate to see you have to up your prices or something like that because of a conflict."
He got up and around his desk, leaning against it next to his visitor.
"Now what is this all about exactly, I just had the head of Infinity Incorporate here asking to issue an immediate embargo on all Mercury goods."

"Supremacy." Deetex concluded.
He paused for a second, then continued.
"This is to be a war for supremacy, Mercury and Infinity are racing towards Major House status and will stiffle the other and the colonies in the process. There is nothing the other houses can do about it and much misery will be endured if they try."

Tolderian continued to lean against his desk, staring at his visitor.
The look in his eyes, while very carefully shielded, carried with them the faintest of hints of his sense of terror with them.
He was a politician after all, a good one even, yet now it took every last scrap of his training and experience to hide it.

"That will the the core reason for this war, they want what we have and we need them out of the picture for what we want."

"And what exactly is it you want?" Tolderian asked hesitantly.
"Well, a monopoly would be nice, if we have no war to worry about we can continue to provide our services, but ultimately, a secure future for all the colonies, then by extension all of Mankind under a unifying flag, that's where we want to go."

Tolderian sighed.
He got up and headed to a glass cubboard.
With a push of his thumb, it unlocked and slid open.
He pulled out a pair of glasses and a glass bottle with a golden brown fluid inside.

"You know, I like you, we've been friends and business partners for a long time now." He stated as he poured the fluid in both glasses, then offered one to Deetex who got up and accepted the glass.

"I'd hate to see our partnership and moreover our friendship come to an end because of politics and business strategies..."
He took a long, excruciatingly slow sip from his glass, keeping his sharp eyes on his guest.

Deetex held the glass up, swirling it slightly until satsified, then took a sip himself.
It was a very rare scotch, not native to this region of space at all.
He estimated it had been aged at least 50 years, possibly longer.
An unopened bottle of this would fetch a very high price on the black market, and judging by the cubboard Tolderian had quite a few.

"Alright" Tolderian finally proclaimed.
"I will not enforce the embargo, not yet, I'll have my lawyers find some legal loophole to stall the process, but I need something from you in return."
"Of course, what is it?"

"This war, if it happens, keep it away from our doorstep.  If any harm befalls house Liberty or it's allies, I will bring the full weight of our legal and military systems down on the offending faction."

A faint smirk grew across Deetex' face, hiding it with a slow nod.
"Agreed."

"So with that out of the way, how are things?"

"Things are good, we're making some really interesting discoveries along several research projects that I'm personally vetted in, the next few years are going to be fascinating to say the least."

"And... I hate to ask, my personal project?"

Deetex pondered for a second, perhaps a second too long, trying to recollect what this project was.
Then he remembered, it was a type of light fighter craft designed by Tolderian himself, to be build with the utmost care.
"It's coming along, the requirements you stipulated are taking some time to refine and implement but we'll have a working prototype ready for you within a month."

He was guessing of course, the two engineers he assigned had their hands full on the current preparations and weren't known for their quality of care.

But still, young Ezekiel had potential, if only he bothered to pay attention.

"With due respect Tolderian, if there is nothing more, I have business to attend and very little time remaining."

"Of course, of course, a businessman who waits misses oppertunity, I understand."
He walked Deetex to the large door leaving the office, shook his hand and wished him well, and that was it.

'We all have our parts to play, until the unifying flag unvails the final day' Deetex thought to himself.
Events were unfolding nicely, there was one last thing to take care of before he could go back to Almere.

He headed back into the city, to that bar he passed earlier and saw to his satisfaction that the two figures were still present.
Keeping his distance he watched, finally noticing that the woman was getting up and leaving.

Dante didn't even notice the man in the longcoat walking up to him, so lost in thought he was.
Deetex placed his hand on Dante's shoulder, and applied the right amount of pressure and current to completely stun him without a twitch or a sound, staying out of sight.
"Know how you prefer your freedom left intact, mister Dante, and be wary of newfound allies."

He whispered the words to his victim, slowly letting each part settle.
Letting go of his victim, he vanished in the passing crowd.
Dante recoiled after regaining his senses, frantically stretching his arm.
His shoulder felt like a nerve or muscle just flexed like a coiled spring.

He hadn't even realized what happened until she came back.
Now he suddenly felt very suspiscious, and kept a weary eye on her as she sat down, her robes flowing slowly around her as through artificially controlled.
Her sharp green eyes stared right back at him.

 

Deetex didn't bother to look back, he knew what was happening and what was about to happen.
Now he had further plans to pursue, and they didn't require him personally to remain here.
Lifting his arms he tapped a few buttons on his communicator, contacting his ship.
"Transmit to Almere, Knight to D-3."