Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Leap of Faith

There was one thing that Sister Kara of the Martyrs of the Holy Sepulchre knew. And that was that the True One was with her. She was the leader of twenty four other nuns, all of the same sect, all sitting in the same APC, all waiting for the Flagritz outside to break open the door and kill them. While the rest were disposed to their eventual deaths at the hands of the godless flagritz, Sister Kara knew otherwise. Sister Kara had faith.

There were few people in the starport when the Flagritz military drilled a hole into the apc, flooded the interior with knock out gas and then literally ripped the APC apart. One by one, after removing their gas masks the nuns stepped out, hands raised, all except Sister Kara, who stood before them all and confronted the Flagritz. The battle armoured leader walked towards her and jabbed her with his rifle, his laugh loud over the squad comms. She dusted the spot, tilted her head and smiled at him. He lunged again and a few seconds later found himself lying on the floor.
"As a sister superior of the Brotherhood I demand to know why we have been assaulted. I demand to see your superior."
She repeated it again, this time in flagritzi. The rest of the squad simply pointed to the enraged warrior she had knocked down. She sighed and closed her eyes.

The party of nuns, now stripped of the weapons sat in the cells waiting. Two of them were treating the bruises and cuts that Kara had recieved. Even now, she still believed that the True One was with her. Pain and a beating from the embarrased leader was nothing, it was more painful to be seperated from her rosary. She began to pray, the others followed her example.

By the time they came for her, Kara knew what she had to do. She had already heard from sympathisers of what was to happen to her. If it was true, that she was to be executed then she would fight it. She would take at least one of them with her, and she would die, a true Martyr. Stretching she stood up and removed her outer garments, leaving only her thin vest and a flowing red skirt. Two flagritz grabbed her, one to each arm, their tentacles holding her tight while a third walked behind them, reading from a list of charges. From the direction they were going, it looked like the hiport. As they reached the base, the sun broke from the clouds and she gazed into it's beauty and for a moment.....

The platform they stopped at was high in the atmosphere, a maintenance section that was out of prying eyes and easy for all of them to breath. As soon as they let her go she struck....

Holding her broken arm she looked at the sun.... she could hear the voice in her head, the subtle prayers that came from a choir of angels, could see the fortress towers of the city of angels in the clouds. She knelt down next to the unconcious forms of the warriors and looked at them, shaking her head that none of them could see the beauty that she was seeing. Could hear the glory of the True One and his words. She would die, become a Martyr, her name written in the lists of faithful to be mentioned by those who would come after. Here, on this planet, there would be a cairn for her, a place of worship. She would be remembered. The Flagritz would have their pound of flesh, and the True One would gain a Martyr.

Opening the platform door she walked out of the platform along the structure arching out over the starport. She started to run and at the edge, she leapt.

Many of those in the starport who witnessed the end of Sister Kara would only hear that she had been executed for being a Brotherhood spy. Other saw, and believed.

But then those who had to clean up the mess saw only the folly of humanity. Somewhere, for everyone, there was meaning in her death.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Hexamon Dreams

She ran through the darkened corridors, her mind focussing on the bundle in her arms. Around her other corridors branched off, the hot and slightly misty conditions making the walls look more like grotesque gothic sculptured nightmares. Every now and then she would stop and listen to the bundle, which she cradled like a child even though it was wrapped in her habit. The multi-faceted eyes of the hive workers watched her and those who followed with interest and kept back, giving them room. As she stopped at another junction, with three corridors leading down one of those behind her pulled her and spun her around. As if in a dream she watched her, the frantic look on her face and the pointing, her mouth opening and closing, the eyes judging. But all she could hear was the singing and cradled the bundle and ran down another corridor, always deeper. Lights flashed behind her, but she ran onwards, her burden all important to her. As she waited at another junction she looked up, three workers were standing, blocking a corridor. They seemed to be looking at her bundle, their antenna quivering, then they started singing to her as well. She looked at them and smiled, not seeing the shape of the warrior peeling it'self from the wall ahead.....

The sound of the automatic rifle behind her seemed to snap her out of her dream. The squeals of the warrior as it was blown apart, and more sounds of firing behind her turned her around. For the first time she seemed to look around. The oppressive heat made her gasp and looking at the workers she could hear their clicking conversations between them and see them longing for her bundle.
"No... it's mine...."
"By the blessed virgins, now you come to your senses? Damn you Stella, what are we doing down here?"
Stella looked over at the other nun, and the others who were backing down towards them.
"I hope there is a way out down here as it's wall to wall back there. Stella, Kaitlin, tell us there is a way out!"
"Where.... are we?"
"Stella's lost it, are we getting any signal from the APC? Or the ship?"
One of the nuns shouldered her rifle and pulled out a small box, shining a light on it's surface.
"No signal, we're being jammed or too far underground. What are we doing down here? I said we should have taken one of the tunnels leading upwards. Stella?"
Kaitlin slapped Stella's face and shook her shoulders.
"Stella, snap out of it! We need you to get us out of here!"
An explosion above them in the corridor made them all raise their weapons and watch. Another nun ran around the corner, firing wildly behind her.
"Imelda, what's the situation?"
"We're fucked! Whatever the hell Stella stole it's got them freaking mad!"
She turned the weapon around, rolling the ciger in her mouth from one side to the other and shot the three workers at range, then walked over and finished them.
"Now they can't see us for a few moments until they get more workers or drones or whatever here. Stella, what is in that package you stole?"
They all turned to Stella as she unravelled the loose folds of her cloak and revealed her bundle.
"We're dead...."
"That was so stupid....."
"True One protect us...."
"Stella! Get rid of it for fuck sake!"
Stella ran a hand over the hive egg and whispered to it before looking up.
"But it sang to me.... it sang such a song...."
"Of course it fucking sang to you, they're telepathic and you're bloody pathetic! I told the Sister Superior we needed a damn Inquisitor not an empath!"
"She wouldn't harm me.... she said so...."
"And led you on a merry chase down here into the bowels of hell. If we get out of here you won't have to worry about what Carm will do becaus she won't stop Pyros from roasting your ass! Chantelle, Felicitya... scout the corridors. Imelda, if anything comes down that ramp shoot it. Where is Tiff?"
"Dead... and so is Aisha and Tee-bo. I don't know where the twins are, but if they are behind us, they are dead because there were warriors and something big behind them."
Stella hugged the egg, feeling the creature inside move.
"It's okay, we'll be home soon...."
It took Kaitlin a moment to realise Stella was talking to the egg. She raised her pistol and aimed it at her friends head.
"Sister Stella, for the crime of heresy and putting an alien brood above your Sisters I condem you to death. May god have mercy on your soul....."

Stella looked up at her friend, seeing the grim determination on her face. She knew what was coming, it had told her so but she was helpless to stop it, only able to turn her head. The warrior leapt from it's niche and slammed into Kaitlin, sending her pistol flying. With a scream it opened it's mouth and ripped out the back of her neck with it's powerful jaws. Imelda was firing up the corridor as the seething mass coming towards them, the nightmare wall of shiny black warriors, all scrambling to get at her. Chantelle ran from the corridor she was scouting, her sword in her hands and sliced the warrior eating Kaitlin, cutting through half of it's head and torso. She pushed Stella down the corridor that Felicitya was scouting.
"Imelda, we're leaving!"
Stella closed her eyes as she was dragged down, seeing not through her eyes, but the eyes of the warriors. Dozens of images of Imelda, all shifting as they moved or died, getting closer and closer until there was just red. She felt Imeldas death scream, saw it through the eyes of the warriors that dismembered her. And still she thought to the egg, don't worry... all will be well.

Felicitya looked up at the wall with despair. This tunnel as well was a dead end, but the wall was fresh. Resin was still drying and she took her rifle and started smashing at it. She wailed as she hammered at it, dropping her rifle and hammering on it with her fists. Chantelle and Stella appeared out of the gloom and startled her.
"Dead end.... Stella.... so help me...."
Felicitya pointed and screamed. The end of the corridor was filled with warriors. They were still, just standing there watching, she grabbed her rifle and checked the load, almost empty. Her pistol had one last shot. Chantelle checked her pistol, it was empty, but her sword was unbroken.
"Stella, check your weapons."
"I don't need them.... "
"Felicitya, if they come..."
"I know, the final benediction. Great saints I had hoped it wouldn't come to this..."
"I dont think any of us knew Stella would steal a fucking hive egg. Must be something special about it...."
The wall of warriors parted slowly and a man walked towards them and stopped. It was so surreal that Chantelle simply shook her head.
"Who... the hell... are you?"
"We are the voice of the Hexamon."
The man stood stock still and looked at them, his voice when he talked was heavy and ponderous, his eyes almost glowed with a pale blue light.
"We are most upset. We gave you access to us so you could further understand us. We believed you were different. We believed the one known as Stella would understand and instead she stole from us."
"No, by the moons you are a human! How can you side with them?"
"We are the voice of the Hexamon. We were hatched to talk with you as one of you. We are Hexamon."
"I should shoot you now!"
"We would hatch a new voice. We would not be inconvenienced by the death of a drone."
Chantelle levelled her sword at the egg Stella was crooning over. The warriors seemed to lurch then stop at what seemed an invisble barrier.
"But you would be by this egg?"
"You must not. We value life."
"Your own? Or ours?"
"All life is sacred. Give us the egg. Or we will be forced to take it."
"Let us out of here and you can have the egg back."
"No. We must have the egg. We will not negotiate."
"Then I curse you and this egg in the name of the True One!"
She brought her sword up and swung it down. Stella screamed and pushed her body in the way, the blade cutting deep into her. As Stella lay dying, she heard the egg singing to her again and she smiled. She smiled while Chantelle and Felicitya were torn apart. The man turned her face towards him, the blood on his hand bright against his light skin.
"Even when faced with certain death you still fight. We are much interested in this. Maybe we will keep you alive and learn your secrets."
An animal scream was heard from behind them as a larger creature was walking forwards, pushing through the warriors.
"On the other hand, we think keeping you alive is far too....."
A large warrior, much larger reached down and picked her up, holding her up and looking at her. As the great maw opened up she realised this must be a queen.... maybe even the mother of the egg.... and still it sang to her, but now a sad song. The queen lunged. Such a.....

Stella sat up in bed and screamed, rolling herself in the thin blanket and shaking. Around her in the dormitory other sisters were sleeping and snoring. A few woke up and told her to get back to sleep. She curled up in a ball and rocked herself slowly. Another dream, like the last. But this one was so vivid, so real. Taking her pad she wrote down everything she could rememeber and placed it back under her pillow. It took what seemed like an eternity to fall back to sleep and seemed like only seconds before the great bell was rung and the sisters began waking.

As she walked barefoot to perform her ablutions her friend walked with her. Felicitya, a Sister like Stella in the Abbey of the Holy Sepulchre had joined up with her, both of them running away from the farming community to become somethign more.
"Stella, are you allright? You woke up screaming again."
"I'm fine Fel, it' was a bad dream. A very bad dream."
"Ooh Stella... it can't be all that bad. Come on... last one to the showers has to say evensong!"
All through the morning, through breakfast, prayers and study she was distracted. Eventually one of the elder sisters pulled her aside and spoke with her.
"Sister, what is wrong with you today. You look pale as snow and shaking like a leaf. More bad dreams?"
"Yes, I don't want to....."
"Say no more. Stella, you have been summoned. By the mother superior."
"She's here? I thought....."
"She came back this morning. And she is waiting for you in her office. Asked for you by name, and your friend Felicitya. I hope you havn't been misbehaving?"
"Oh no Sister. I'm sure it's nothing. Maybe she can help me? I don't want to be classed as a heretic for my dreams."
"Have faith in the True One my dear and remember he can see all. Be true to yourself and you shall have no fear."
Stella smiled and nodded and made her way to the Mother Superiors office.

Carmilla was sitting reading a report when the door was knocked on softly.
"Come in."
She looked up and saw the two nuns before her. Stella, tall and nervous. Felicitya looking around in awe at the room. So, this was Stella. I wonder....
"You, Sister Felicitya, what am I feeling at this moment in time?"
"I do not know, Mother. I could guess, but I might be wrong."
"You are feeling curious and inquisitive."
"Very good. How do you know? Not a guess I hope?"
"No Sister, I just have... I just know how people feel. I can tell if they are happy or sad, honest or dishonest, lying or telling the truth. I just assumed it was a gift of the True One."
"Sooo, you think that you have been singled out by our Lord do you?"
Stella went quiet, and quite pale.
"I didn't mean.... "
"I know. I am teasing you. Please, come sit down. I have need for you to lead an expedition for me."
They both sat down.
"An expedition, but we are both untrained in the outside world. We know only of what is in the Abbey."
"Well now you are getting ready to go outside. And off planet. But first... tell me of your dreams. I hear that you have vivid dreams."
For the next hour Stella retold every dream she had, leaving the dream of the hive egg till last. Carmilla nodded and took notes.
"So did you get the impression that you could feel what the egg was feeling?"
"Yes, and it could feel me. I guess it was singing to me to keep me calm."
"Good. Now then, I will arrange for eight more sisters to accompany you."
"Where are we goign?"
"Later. You don't need to know straight away."
"As you wish."
"Follow me."
They followed the Mother Superior through cloisters and corridors until they reached a large courtyard by the starport. Several nuns were sitting paitently by a large armoured personnel carrier. One of the nuns was spray painting a logo on the side, a plume of some coming from a cigar that was clenched in her teeth.
"Imelda...." Stella blurted out then walked over to the others,"And Kaitlin, Nikita.. Jasmine... Tiff... Aisha... Teebo.... and Chantelle...."
Imelda blew a smoke ring and droped the spray gun on a crate.
"Well, someone read her mission briefing..."
"There was a briefing? Why wasn't I told...."
"You were, you were asleep...."
"Yeah but I'm not in the briefing...."
"Is there a briefing? And why is she shaking?"
"Sisters, this is Stella. She will be the leader on this expedition. I need you all to keep her safe, and out of trouble."
"So where are we going? It wasn't in the briefing...."
Stella turned to Carmilla, eyes wide open.
"Rahm.... Rahm Prime... "
They all looked at Stella, who was shaking and white. Felicitya held her close and looked disaprovingly at Carmilla before remembering her place and lowering her head.
"You are the new diplomatic envoys to the Hexamon. Rahm Prime on Mobile Bay is where you are heading to talk to the Hexamon."
"About... what?"
"Religion... trade.... anything that comes to mind. As long as you talk about Religion. Find out of they have one. And keep her safe. We don't want to start a diplomatic incident now... do we?"

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Expansion and Erudition

The shaman stood inside the stone circle and chanted. Here on the sacred plains of his people, and in the ways of his forefathers he summoned the sun from it's resting place. His chants were supported by the small choir of women who were placed around the small stone circle. According to legend, the songs of the shaman commanded, and the songs of the women beckoned. Either way, usually, and at the approriate time, the sun rose lazily over the horizon. As it did today. Today however, the sun brought something new, and from his place by the altar in the centre of the stone circle, he noticed the black spec that was above the sun and the sound of the winds, yet no wind blew. It was, he though excitedly, a sign from the great sun god!

The Brotherhood troop carrier descended quickly and roared through the early morning sky. In the troop compartment hundreds of soldiers went through the routine of final checking their equipment. Sisters walked amongst them, offering benedictions, prayers and blessing their armour and weapons. Up in the cockpit the pilots flew nape of the earth towards their destination, the sun behind them. From her seat the Inquisitor Carmilla D'morenta watched with interest on the various monitors as they flew over plains and rivers and fields. So the rumours were true, there was indiginous life here. So much the better for them, and for us. Looking on the forward monitor she saw the stone circle in the distance and slapped the arm of the pilot and pointed.
"Land there."
"But Inquisitor, that is not our landing site."
"Land.... there."
"Yes, Inquistitor."
The pilot flipped a switch and informed the soldiers to prepare for landing. They brought the troop carrier around in a lazy arc and landed not far from the circle. Already the ships in orbit were asking for clarification on the landing spot. Carmilla ignored them for the moment and unbuckled herself, pulling her habit on properly and checking her weapons.
"Inform the other ships that this is where the outpost will be constructed. Send them the appropriate landing configuration, we will check the area."
The pilot acknowledged and lowered the ramps.

The women watching the troop carrier fled as it landed and disgorged people. They ran straight to their village and left the shaman. He stood watching enraptured as the sign from God sat there like a great hunched beetle. The people who had come off the ship dispersed in all directions and some were coming this way. He took his staff of leadership and walked towards them.
"Brothers! I greet you in the name of...."

The Inquisitor at the head of her personal squad of zealous warriors walked towards the stone circle and saw the man coming towards them. His staff was raised, and he spoke in a language they did not understand. They circled him and two went to scout the circle and Carmilla pushed her way through. She looked him up and down, clad in a long robe with strings of beads and other jewelry around him, and stylized icons of the sun.
"Do you understand me? You, savage?"
He looked at her strangely and spoke, neither could understand the words. He tapped the symbol on his chest and pointed at the sun, then at himself.
"I think he is some sort of holy man."
"Yes, looks like some sort of solar god. Can we convert them to the true faith?"
"Tricky if they can't speak a civilised language."
She mused this and walked into the stone circle, touching the walls and the masonry. It was old, very old, but repaired and painted, plastered over in places. The man walked over to the altar and watched them closely. He pulled out from under a basket full of food and laid it on the surface and gestured to it. One of the zealots ran a scanner over it and nodded.
"The food seems edible, no obvious contaminants. And this seems to be a narcotic of some description."
"So we have food, trade goods and judging from this and the jewels there is plenty to keep us. Have they found his village yet?"
"The scouts have found several, from the look of them all are at the same level of technology. We will have no problems here."
Carmilla lifted up her habit and pulled out her knife and started tapping the stones where the new repairs had been made. She scratched the paint aside and the man shouted at her and shook his head and walked over to her pushing her back and standing infront of the stone.

He looked at her with amazement! How dare they try and desecrate the temple of the sun, what were they? Heathens? Were they so uneducated as to not know what....

Her backhand when it came knocked him to the floor. Two Zealots moved in and stood on his arms, keeping him down.
"How dare you strike an Inquisitor of the True One! Are you a heathen? Do you not know the penalty for doing that?"
He shouted back at her, and she shouted at him. Both angry and defiant in the names of their own gods, both learning much and understanding too little... too late. On the outskirts of the temple, hidden in the undergrowth the local warriors had seen their Shaman, and the leader of their people struck down. What they did came naturally to them. They attacked. And their attack sealed their doom.

Carmilla watched as her troops pulled back to a defensive position and the fighting started, row after row of the savages were torn apart, but they kept coming. The man at her feet was chanting now, irritating her. She pulled out her pistol and shot him without looking.
"Cleanse the area, every village for five miles. If you think they can be converted to worship the True One bring them back. If not, kill them all."
She reached down and took the stylised sun from his chest and crushed it over him.
"One day.... someone will do that to you...."
"So... you can understand. Those who came before us said you could."
"We will be... avenged...."
"But not today."
She shot him again, between the eyes.
"Burn all the bodies. Any signs of religious buildings I want them torn down, any who complain I want them shot. This is my world now. Bring down the other ships, it's time to start building a real future for these savages."

The great haulers landed in the places asigned to them and one of Carmilla's girls came over. She was wearing combat gear, but had kept her headdress. Looking around she could see the plumes of smoke from the burning villages.
"Had some trouble Carm?"
"Not really. Ready to start building?"
"Oh yes, shouldn't take too long to get the basics done, and my explorers who are still on planet have locations of interesting things to exploit. There will be a full report for you within the week."
"Good. Make sure this stone circle is used in the construction."
"As a centre for the outpost?"
"If you wish, or as foundation rubble. I'll leave it to your artistic temprament."
"Oh, that reminds me. That small order of nuns you sent to Solo? To the flagritz station?"
She racked her brains for a moment then smiled.
"The Martyrs of the Holy Sepulchre? How are they doing?"
"They uh... want you to call them. Apparently it's urgent?"

Carmilla sat on the top of the altar and pulled out a communicator. Running the signal through the troop carrier she managed to raise the ground party.
"Aah, Inquisitor D'morenta. We are so glad you called. We had some trouble finding you."
"I'm setting up an outpost, the expansion must go on. What have you learnt about the Flagritz?"
There was a sound in the background of the communicator, a heavy banging sound. The nun seemed unphased by it.
"Well most of what we found out was as expected. We found three classes, a heavily xenophobic one, the warrior caste and the peace caste. Only the traders or peace caste would talk to us."
There was another sound in the background, a heavy repeater being fired.
"Sister, what is going on back there? It sounds like you are shooting something."
"Well.... some of the Xenophoics took exception to us and got some of the warrior caste to try and throw us out of the starport."
"Where are you?"
"In our APC. They can't get in without using something heavy and we think they won't do that because it will start hostilities. And we can't get out as they've broken the latch on the door."
"And the heavy repeater?"
"Oh, they just took out out wheels."
"Sister, I'm not happy about this. I'm sending someone down to take over."
"But we can...."
"Enough! I dont' want to get into a shooting war with the Flagritz, heaven alone knows what Pyros will say when he finds out what we're doing there. It took a long time to get access, don't screw it up by killing any flagritz."
"By the sacred tomes, but what is they eat us?"
"Then pray they don't choke on you and die! D'morenta out."

She threw the communicator at the nearest stone circle and kicked her heels on the altar looking at the blood stain on the floor. Some days, she thought, it would be nice not to have to kill anyone before breakfast.

To Obey a Dream

The dream was long and tumultous, almost a nightmare. The Inquisitor Carmilla, clad only in gosamer silks tossed and turned on the large bed. Images flooded her mind, a giant figure standing above her on a wind swept plain, his robes untouched by the wind, one hand wielding a fiery sword in a defensive position, the other reaching out, grasping, beckoning. Although she looked up, his face was hidden, and she cast her eyes down, fearing the worst, for it does not do to look up on the true face of god. Many times she had read of the old days when those who were not loyal or faithful enough were smitted by the Lord. But was it piety, desperation or zealotry that caused her to once more turn her head and look upwards. Her arms spread she called out his name and honoured him with prayers shouted into the fury of the winds. Words filled her mind, like the slamming of leaden doors, each word nearly a physical blow. As he spoke images appeared in the air around them. Standing her ground she listened and watched, recognising the alien races, those long since believed by the Brotherhood to be lesser, godless heathens. Her eyes opened in horror as she heard his words and stepped back, flinching.
"No" she screamed. The understanding of his words and gestures, what he wanted her to do. It was unthinkable, it was dangerous.... it was a test of her belief.
"No," she screamed again. And a third time, "No!"
The words formed in her head and a hand reached down and pinned her bodily, all breath leaving her and the interstellar cold invading her limbs.
"YOU.... WILL..... OBEY....."
With a flourish the fiery sword swept down and slammed into the ground inches from her face, the fire along it's blade searing her flesh on her face and side.
"OBEY..... OBEY!"

She awoke screaming, her back arched, muscles taut, her hands reaching out and grasping, gripping and digging in. From one side of her a whimper of a man in pain, from the other hushed whispers of shocked concern, and prayer. Slowly soothing hands massaged her limbs, oils and salves were brought and the lights slowly raised. As she calmed down and started to breath she released her hands and slumped back onto the bed, heat and pain raidiated from her, every time she reached up to touch her face, a hand pulled it back with gentle insistance. Hands pulled her into a sitting position, a warm cloth mopped her brow while another tried to clean her hand, others cleaned away the charred robes. With a gesture she pushed back the bodies around her and shook her head.
"My Lady, are you okay? You... cried out. Should we summon your hand maidens? Or your physician?"
"No... summon my entourage. I need counsel."
She looked around and seemed to realise where she was for the first time. Four men were with her, though one was being bandaged on his arm. Each one was beautiful for a man, and as naked as the day was long. All were looking at her, but careful not to stare.
"What happened to your arm?"
"My Lady, you grabbed me in your nightmare. It will heal."
With a grunt she laid back then gestured to them.
"Leave me. I dont need you at the moment."
They knew better than to argue. As the men departed one of her hand maidens slipped in and climbed onto the bed, bowing towards her, a look of shock on her face and reached out with a hand and then pulled it back.
"My Lady, your entourage has been summoned from their sleep....."
"Good. Get me some tea and something to eat. And what are you staring at?"
The burning sensation on her face and her arm increased and she looked down. A livid burn ran the length of her arm and she reached up to touch her face, her hand maiden was quicker.
"My Lady," the concern on her face overwhelming,"Please dont. I will call for your physician."
Carmilla batted her hand and reached for a mirror and looked into the reflection. And screamed.

By the time her entourage had been summoned and turned up she had dressed and was sitting at a computer terminal. Turning to them she pulled the cowl of her robes to cover her face.
"I had a dream. About the True One. I need counsel on what it means. Not just for me, but for our sect."
"Carm, what happened? Why are you hiding your face?"
"I was chastised. Let us leave it at that. I had a dream that the True One wanted me to go out among the aliens."
"Aaaah, a raid on the aliens? Slaves is it? Or just sport, burning and hunting?"
"No. I have been given a decree by the True One. One that I intend to fulfil to the best of my ability. I have already seen the price of my failure to obey without question. I will not let that happen again. We will see what Gods the Aliens have, and we will bring them the word of God, the glory of the True One."
"You jest.... bring our God to the alien? They are heathens, savages!"
"They are potential converts.... if they understand the glory of our God then we are enriched, even if they are...."
"No! I will not permit this! I will bring this herasy to the Lord Inquisitor! We do not besmirch our faith with the alien scum who threaten our Church with their...."
Carmilla slowly pulled back her cowl. A livid burn scar ran the length of her face and dissapeared under her robes.
"You will Obey... just as I Obey. We are the chosen of the True One, let us not forget that."

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire

Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire is a turn-based, open-ended space opera. It combines strategy and tactics with resource management in a persistent universe that has been continuously running for over 20 years.

Everything from trading, diplomacy, missions and naval/military combat is possible.

The game also has full-time human moderators to deal with unique situations. This game is not for the casual gamer – months to get to grips with, years to master.

It does not offer cheap thrills, it does not offer pretty graphics and it does not offer instant gratification. It offers the chance to create a legacy, the ability to do things in the game others have not and never will, the chance to fundamentally alter the game universe in a persistent and ever evolving storyline. It offers a game for life.

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The Wormhole into the Eden system pulsed, a rainbow of colours exploding into the ether as the gargantuan battleship traversed into normal space. Old grey paint covered the majority of its surfaces, as well as the old banner of the Confederacy. Damage from combat could be seen over it's hull, scars from past conflicts. Battle commendations going back year after year etched into the hull, a graphic reminder of the violent past of the Confederacy. Powerful engines flared and pushed the warship towards the navigational beacons through the defensive lines of Brotherhood ships and platforms, screens of fighters and the caressing tendrils of sensors. In the dying glow of the wormhole a mural across the front of the ship however proclaimed boldly the existance of the Caliphate. Slowly, the lines opened and allowed the Emissary through.

Inquisitor D'Morenta and her closest aides sat in conference. Planetary survey maps covered the table, stacks of statistics on mineral yields, lists of lifeforms, political and sociological ethnotyping of populations. A heavy tome of prayer was open on a lectern and an initiate was reading to the room, a background echo of the piety of the cathedral complex they sat. She rubbed a gloved hand over her face and dropped a survey log onto the table.

"This is getting us no where. These records are four, five years old. Some of them older."
"It's all we have." Sister Marchessa picked up a piece of burnt parchment with a sketch of a Hive Queen. "A lot of our records were lost during the....."
"Please, we don't talk about those times." A grizzled warrior in a monks robes worked his rosary slowly, muttering occasionally under his breath. "Inquisitor, we just need to get more ships and groups out surveying the planets."
"All of which costs money."
"We have the initiates, and we have the locations. We just need your blessing, with results we will be able bring more wealth into the coffers and fund more exploration."
"Fine, you have my blessing. Next order of business. The Caliphate. Gregor, put down the rosary and tell me what your spies have told you."
"It's not good...."

The Caliphate battleship landed and disgorged five men. A tall figure, wearing heavy silken robes followed by four veteran soldiers, all wearing the personal clan sigil of Darius walked towards the security entrance to the colony. A flourishing of a sheaf of papers and security passes allowed them through every single door and entrance. Word passed through the colony to the cathedral, an Emissary had arrived.

Carmilla brushed a speck of dust from her habit and nodded at the report. It was as if there was a madness encircling the Caliphate. The Confederate Offficers who she had helped escape had said the same thing. Something was different, something not right. It was lucky, she thought, that Pyros was in charge. His decisions were at least more reasonable. She looked up as she heard a commotion outside the door and turned around, one hand slipping under the table. Two of the guards in the room were listening to their comms while others readied their weapons. She raised her hand to stop Gregor and waited. The door opened, and was closed by the caliphate marines.

With almost feigned indifference she watched the man walk in. Cool, calm, dangerous. Like a shark, pure predator. Slowly she moved her hand back up onto the table and nodded to the man. Here was a man to be afraid of, a man that held the power of life and death over anyone and everyone in the Caliphate. Titus. The Assassin Emissary.

"Salaam, Inquisitor D'Morenta. I bring greetings from the Caliphe and the Lord Inquisitor."
He pulled the sheaf of papers out and and selected one, handing it to her. It was addressed, in heavy gothic script, to her.
"You are ordered hence forth to make your presence before the Caliphe in three days. The location is in the...."
Gregor pulled himself to his feet and slammed a fist onto the table.
"The Caliphe does not order here! This is a sanctuary, a holy place. Only the Lord Inquisitor can order an Inquisitor..."
"No, this man is filth. I know him. Assassin. Beast!"
"You honour me too much. But I am not here for you. Inquisitor D'Morenta, you have three days. The penalty for disobedience will be severe."
"Oh Titus, you do have a flamboyance about you. Three days? It's not enough time. I need five."
"And yet you have only three. There is no flexibility, no leeway, no begging. Your ruler and your Lord Inquisitor demand your presence. I am baffled why we are even having this conversation. Are not monks and nuns just supposed to... obey?"
"We do. We obey just fine," Carmilla stood up and smoothed down her habit, "But we obey the True One. Not the Caliphe. However, he is one of Gods children, so we will be humble and come and visit. You may go Titus, you have fulfilled your requirements."
Carmilla bowed to the Assassin Emissary and watched him depart. Gregor sneers and spat after him.
"Yes Gregor, I see you were right about them. We must be cautious."
"Pah, he is lucky I didn't put a bullet in him!"
"We are lucky you didn't. They would wipe out our sect without even blinking. They have the power, we have the faith."
"Doesn't that make us stronger?"
"Oh yes.... but faith doesn't stop photon guns from raining down death on out colonies."

Three Days Later

Inquisitor D'Morenta stormed down the Emperors corridor in the Caliphate capital, her entourage struggling to keep up. From behind her the sounds of arguing from the council chamber. The Assassin Emissary caught up with her and grabbed her shoulder.
"Inquisitor, that was not dignified!"
"Bullshit Titus! That's not how things should be done, that was a damn witch hunt!"
"The FET knew what they were doing....."
She looked up at him and pointed a finger at him.
"Titus the Confederacy is larger than just one person!"
"Carmilla," he sighed softly, "Do you believe that, or is it your father speaking?"
Her hand lashed out, slapping his face with a loud crack that even turned the heads of the guards along the corridor. She shrugged and nodded and looked up at him.
"Oh Titus, I'm sorry. I guess you are right. The Caliphate rules now, I guess I should stop living in my fathers shadow."
"I think that this is just a bit larger than that. The Lord Inquisitor needs you and you... just stormed out in a fit of girlish pique?"

Carmilla walked back into the council chamber and found the Lord Inquisitor, Pyros sitting there in quiet contemplation. The other delegates and leaders were still rowing.
"You are too impetuous."
"Yes my Lord."
"You will obey the Caliphe, he is the leader of our Alliance."
"Yes my Lord."
"And you will support the Caliphate by pledging your holy system to them."
He raised a hand to her.
"And the words you should be speaking now are 'Yes my Lord'."
"Yes.... my Lord. I will follow your lead, myself and my whole sect."
"Good. Now before I send you to your quarters and repeat the Prayer of Obedience fifty times, you will sit and watch and listen. And maybe you will learn something."
"What am I watching?"
"Now that is a good question. You can answer it after they stop shouting."

Escaping the Chains

The heavy grating set in the wall moved slightly. Again it moved, as if someone behind it was pushing against it. A faint sob from behind it as the person levered it open partially, the corner allowing fingers through, a redoubling of effort, a frantic hammering. The grating moved again as the person thrust their body at it and eventually made a hole large enough to squeeze through. A woman pulled herself out and tried to push the grate shut. She was bedraggled, dirty and dressed in a tattered ship suit. Looking up and down the corridor she was in like a wild animal she ran and opened a large door covered with warning signs. Great gusts of wind slammed the door back and she jumped through and pulled it shut.

Looking around she found herself on one of the walkways that ran under the great starbase of Mirabile, one of the decaying outlying Brotherhood stations in the Yank system. Wind howled and sent the waves from the sea lashing the thorlium columns that kept the station up. Holding onto the chains that acted as a barrier around the walkway she breathed deeply and let the spray cover her. For far too long she had been without proper air, or even water that had not been through the aging filtration systems. For a moment, she looked over the edge, into the steel darkness of the sea and thought about simply leaping into it. A swift watery death was better than being caught again.

As she stood there a sound moved her and she looked up. The great bulk of a freighter was lifting up from one of the landing pads and heading out. From the direction, to one of the starbases along the coast. Leaning out she looked up, and saw something. The great elevator of the hiport leading up into space, and from there it would be easy to jump a freighter. Easier than the landing pads here, they would be full of guards. It could be done... It... must be done. She started running down the walkway towards the main columns as fast as she could.

The maintenance bay at the base of the column was shut, but the window was glass and shattered easily. Inside she found tools and began working on the wrist cuffs and tracer belt. A small plasma cutter seared her skin, but the cuffs fell to the deck. Luckily the bays medical section had the necessary pain killers. Sitting back, rubbing her burned skin, tears streaming down her face she kicked the tracer belt through slats in the floor which fell into the ocean. With luck they would think she had drowned. But luck was never on her side. Dragging herself up and through the door she saw the markings on the wall and pressed the relevant button, a selection of rungs shot out slowly and led upwards. With screaming muscles and pain lancing down her arms she started to climb.

As she reached the top rung and looked over she heard the sound of the weapons being cocked. Standing just on the edge of the upper walkway was a woman, surrounded by several guards. She sobbed, recognizing the insignia of the Inquisition on the woman. Letting go of the rungs she felt herself falling back, only to feel herself grabbed by the woman who held her, then pulled up by the guards. They slammed her to the floor and fastened restraints around her then pulled her up, grabbing her hair and pulling her head to face the Inquisitor.
"I was interested to find that workshop. One of the hidden little places of the previous governor."
The Inquisitor sat down on the edge of the walkway, the ocean far below her boots.
"Did you know he leapt from here? Or some place like this. Did a swallow dive into the ocean. Body never recovered. Mind you, not that we looked."
"Let me go.... please.... "
The Inquisitor gestured to the spot beside her and the woman was forced down into a sitting position, her legs over the edge.
"I hate this place, this decaying monstrosity. I wish I could destroy it, but it's all part of the greater good."
"Let me go...." she pleaded. "I was taught the rite of the True One. I wasn't escaping from that, I was escaping the chains! "
"Yes, the old governor loved his slaves. I guess you didn't know that the new Lord Inquisitor decided to issue an edict against slavery in the Brotherhood. They were all given their freedom."
The escaping slave looked up at the Inquisitor.
"You mean.. I am free?"
"Technically yes. That's why we are here. You... do want your freedom yes?"
Her eyes gleamed at hope of freedom.
"Yes my Lord!"
"Then as the new Governor of this starbase and with the power of the Inquisition, I give you your freedom."
She gestured to the guards behind her, the slave bent forward so they could get to her restraints. Instead she felt the guard behind her kick her. She fell screaming into the waves below, the Inquisitor watched impassively.
"Well this is a cause for celebration. Mirabile, is now free of slaves. Praise be to the True One. Come on, lets hit the nearest bar. You boys deserve a drink."
Carmilla D'morenta stood up and dusted herself off, looking down at the body floating in the sea.
Yes she mused, no more slaves, only the purity of the devoted. Blessed be!