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.

Starship positions are free to run, and you can sign up today.

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Revelations

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..."
"Gregor...."
"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!

End of an Era

Inquisitor Carmilla D'morenta and her entourage stood and watched the birth of the Caliphate. All around the men of Darius were proclaiming the new order. The men of the Frontier Exploration and Trade bowed their heads, as did the Central Intelligence Agency. The Brotherhood watched impassively until they too, bowed their heads. The Confederacy was now no more, a memory. She watched as the great Confederate flag was cut down and replaced by the new one. To her left an old man clutched her shoulder and cursed.
"I can't believe it. I worked side by side with the Confeds and later fought them. They were proud men, it's a shame to see them go."
"Yes Father," Carmilla sighed, "But we must move with the times."
"And I suppose you'll tell me the old guard will just be happy with the change over?"
"The Confederacy that you knew was not the same one that died here today."
"And what happened to the steadfasts?"
"They either changed allegiance to the new order, or they...."
"Carmilla... do one thing for me. I want that flag."
She smiled at the man standing on her right, a tall impressive figure even clothed in heavy robes.
"Oh I think I can do that."

Two men oversaw the movement of the old Confederate banner. They were unaware they were being watched, and by the time the Inquisitor was behind them it was too late. Two heavy saps struck their heads and they tumbled, unconscious to the floor. Sleep gas capsules were thrown and the employees collapsed.
"Was that necessary? To strike them?"
The taller of the entourage turned to her and threw back his hood. His grey uniform could be seen underneath.
"Yes it was. I swore an oath never to turn my hand against the Confederacy, but this is something different. We're going, leaving all this behind, but we may be back one day."
"So the Confederacy will rise again?"
"Yes ma'am. It may."
She nodded sagely and thought for a moment then pulled out an envelope and handed to him.
"Read it when you get to the starport. Do what it says, no questions."
He frowned but took the envelope.
"As you say."
"And take my father to his hotel. I think this has all been too much for him."

She stood on one of the large embankments looking out over the starport, leaning on the railing. Her guardian coughed slightly and she could hear the sound of her pistol being cocked.
"Weapon away, we are amongst friends."
"Aaaah Sister, I have been looking for you."
"My Lord Inquisitor Pyro, I am at your service."
The leader of the Brotherhood, flanked by his heavily armed guards walked towards her and leant against the railings. Behind them his guards began assembling a surface to air missile.
"I have been hearing disconcerting rumours about you. Aiding revolutionaries?"
"Yes my Lord."
"You will have to be punished for such."
"Yes my Lord."
"The Caliphate rules now. And we are part of it. If you do not understand that, and do not accept that there is no place for you here."
"Yes... my Lord."
He sighed and handed her the controls and they watched the ship take off.
"Destroy it."
She flicked the lock and pressed the switch, the missile behind roaring into the sky and slamming into the ship which exploded, falling back upon itself in a black plume of smoke.
"I am glad we had this conversation, Sister."
"The True One wills it, My Lord."

From the side of the hanger bay the Confederate Officers watched the ship burn, one by one they dissapered into the the hidden escape passage until only two were left.
"That is quite some daughter you have there."
"She scares the hell out of me sometimes. Long live the Confederacy."
"We will rise again!"
And with a salute he was gone leaving the old man to watch the ship burn.

-------------
OOC: I have always been fond of the Confederacy, and it is a shame to see them gone. But, games change, and this is a game. Long live the Caliphate :)

Crash and Burn - Survivors

Fire. Fire is the gift that the True One gives us. Fire purifies. Fire holds back the night and the nightmares. Fire....

Brother Matthew stood firm, his flame thrower spraying gouts of liquid flame at the pack of desert wolves that was facing him and his dying neophyte. Dozens were dead and dying, the stench of their fur filling the air, the smoke from their burning carcasses filling his eyes with tears of irritation. And still they came.
"My Lord is my guardian, with his blessing I shall stand firm...."
More gouts of flame and the squeals, the dying. Less now, but they were closer. A distant beeping brought a tinge of fear until it was quashed under prayer. Nothing lasts forever. With a pressurized hiss the fuel tank ejected. The last tank was held up by his Neophyte, whimpering in pain. Seconds lost. Insert, lock, pressurize. A shape lunged at him, razor sharp talons ripping into his chest, the butt of the thrower slammed into it's neck followed by his boot, the crunch of bone then again spraying at the attacking pack. They were relentless, but he was a survivor.
"We make our stand here, and by the True One we will die here fighting!"
Behind him, he heard Tobias let out a last sigh and his body slumped. With grim determination he fought on.


Far out in space a ship appeared in a purple haze, gas dispersing slowly as it finished it's jump. The gas, flotsam from a gas giant they jumped from to escape hid them for a moment, then the great engines of the battlecruiser powered up and left it behind. Moving with a speed and grace that defied it's physical shape, a clenched fist of black steel festooned with weapon and sensor ports the Pride of Folkvar headed towards the sun.

On the ships bridge Folkvar looked over the internal scans, checking damage and casualty lists. The last running battle had been fierce, as expected with Dewiek hunters, but he was better. Rubbing his tired eyes with a paw he stretched. Folkvar, once the greatest in the land, was now free. In a sense. No longer High Lord of the Dewiek, Folkvar the Wolf Baron was now also know as the Fallen. He got up and walked the bridge, wondering how merciful it was that Filtiarn, Lord of the Wolves, held back the final killing blow. Change had always come slowly to the Dewiek, and this was no exception. How long had it been planned, talked about, discussed? Were the marauders that attacked his ship Filtiarns? Pah, but he was still one of the twelve until his hide had been displayed, and that would take some doing.
"Comms, inform the sector command we are here. See if there is any news that we need to download, and find out where my sons pack is."
The communications officer barked a confirmation and after a few moments stepped aside.
"Sector Command, this is the Wolf Baron Folkvar. By standing orders we are informing you of our presence in your territory."
On the screen a greying wolf looked up and spat off screen.
"Folkvar, why do you have to dirty my sector? We have no need of you here."
"Hold your tongue, this is a courtesy call, nothing more. I seek the Silver Claw pack, they are in this cluster I understand."
"Aaah, you seek your ragged cur of a son. When you have gone my sector will be better for it. Changes to the old ways are wrong. They should have killed you, your time is past."
Folkvar looked aside, tapped his comm officer and pointed to the download, he nodded and began to download data from the command.
"I will attempt to forget your insults to me....."
"That is why you are cast out, mongrel. Folkvar the Fallen? I call you Folkver the Dead. You have 48 hours to leave my sector or I will unlease my fleet against you. And before you whine like a female in heat, I will send that to the High Command. Be well."
Folkvar looked at the screen. For someone to talk to him like that showed how far he had fallen in some eyes. But then there would always be those who were of the old school, the old ways. Remnants. Regardless, he was still one of the Twelve and he had power, albeit diminished. Throwing back his head he howled with laughter.
"Those old fools. I pity them, maybe once I pick up my cub we will head over there and tear out his throat."
Falling back into his command chair he looked out of the window, aware of a silence from the comms officer.
"Well, do you have his location?"
"Yes, and I've sent over the co-ordinates... but...."
"But what?"
"According to this the Silver Claw pack has been in no less than seven engagements and lost four ships but accounting for at least nine destroyed. Last reported action, just a few hours ago was with a Confed transport and it's escorts. Then all contact was lost."
"Divert all power to the jump engines, get us to that location. Quickly!"

Folkvar left the bridge and walked into his quarters, slamming the door behind him. A cold shiver ran down his spine and he shook his fur wildly. Over on one wall were seven pictures, all of them his cubs. Three had died, as befitting a Dewiek, in combat against superior odds. The rest were competant, successful and influential, but of all of them, the youngest was his favorite.
"Aaaah, young cub, I know you will be fine."
A form on the bed stirred and yawned.
"My love, why do you call him that, he is old enough to hunt."
He leapt onto the bed and swept his mate into his arms.
"White Strides will always be a cub to me. I am far to fond of him."
His mate held him tight and bit his neck softly, shivering when she heard his low gutteral growl.
"And I... am far too fond of you."


Brother Matthew brought the pointed stone down, smashing into the desert wolves skull. Finally, it was over. Staggering back he tripped over a burnt body and fell onto two more dead wolves. Pain lashed his body, dozens of slashes, bites and cuts covered his body. Blood flowed freely from his wounds. Under the glaring sun he struggled to his feet and looked around. His weapon was broken beyond repair, used as a club when it had finally run out of fuel. With gentle touches he wiped it's plaque and wept. This weapon had been a constant companion for many years and it's loss was a devestating blow. Tearing his robe he made some makeshift bandages and covered the worst of his wounds then set to work. Despite the heat and the stench he dug a grave for his neophyte and buried him, covering it with heavy stones. A prayer was read over the body and finally, when his obligations had finished, he staggered over into the shade and sat down.
"You were brave, young Tobias. Know that you will find solace in heaven."
From the depths of his pocket he pulled out a small box and activated his emergency homing beacon. It was set to a Confederate frequency and with luck help would arrive. Slowly, he drifted into unconsciousness.


The roar of rage was heard all through the ship. Over the last hour they had managed to find and locate the remains of the Silver Claw pack. The survivors from the flagship were taken aboard and the ranking officer told Folkvar the news.
"Your son is dead, my Lord. He was killed by forces onboard the freighter. From what scattered reports we could get before the freighter went down over the planet, a Monk killed him."
"A Monk? This was a confederate ship I was told, not a Brotherhood one."
"Why not suppose there was one travelling on board. Until we go to the planet and retreive the escape pods and jettisoned compartments we won't know."
He turned on the officer gripping him his neck in one swift movement. He growled and squeezed.
"We won't know? But you said he is dead. Might he not have taken an escape pod?"
The officer tried to back away, snapping and whining.
"My lord, all pack leaders are tagged and monitored. He flatlined!"
Folkvar threw the officer against a bulkhead and stormed back to the bridge.
"Take us to the planet, now! I was all sensor scans running. I want every signal from that planet, every morsel. You will chase down ever lead on any signal that indicates that Confederate forces are alive down there. Do you understand?"
The crew growled their confirmation.
"Get the shuttles read, I want an armed force with each one. We investigate each signal which mentions Confed or Brotherhood."
"Sire.... you may want to hear this...."

Thump thump.....
I can hear my heart beating. With every beat I know I am alive. If I am alive there is hope. If there is hope there is faith. With faith I cannot die.
Thump thump.....
If I cannot die, then I will live. And if I live I can say the proper prayers for my neophyte. He fought well, but I could have teached him more.
Thump thump.....
It is getting cold. Even though the sun is directly above me, and the ground is too hot to touch, I am still cold.
Thump thump.....
......
Thump thump.....
Am I ready to die? Are those angels coming towards me?
Thump.....

Brother Matthew awoke in a glaring white room and raised his hand to cover his eyes. The pain was gone, now only a distant memory. He could hear nothing, save again his heart beating, and a low whistling sound.
"Am I dead?"
A wheezing laugh caused him to turn his head. A very tall wolf was leaning against a wall, his dark fur immaculate, his harness pristine with it's medals and accolades. This, he saw, was a highly place Dewiek. Though, he mused, not a million miles away from the ones that had fought him on the planet.
"Where am I? Or is that a delicate question?"
"The question isn't. But the answer may be."
"Oh....."
The wolf chuckled, but seemed intent on staring at the monk.
"Perhaps you know who I am?"
"No. To me you are Dewiek, though from the look a skilled and dangerous one."
The wolf chuckled again.
"I am the Wolf Baron, Folkvar the Fallen."
Matthew frowned and tried to sit up, the strength leaving him.
"I thought.... you were... top dog so to speak. Thank you, if it was you who found me."
Folkvar walked over to the monk and patted him on the cheek.
"Oh don't thank me yet. You may live to regret living. But get well, yes, hu-man. I have much to talk to you about."
He padded out of the room and closed the door, a red light indicating it was sealed.

Folkvar's mate met him outside the medical bay and embraced him.
"You don't need to do this."
"He will get better, then I will fight him to the death."
"It's a pointless fight!"
Folkvar punched the metal wall, denting it in fury and howled at her.
"He killed my son!"
His mate snarled and grabbed him slamming him bodily into the bulkhead.
"You may be the Pack Leader, you may be my mate and the father of my cubs, but if you ever, EVER think that I am not grieving for my lost cub I will make sure you never have cubs again! I want to rip out his throat and bathe in his blood but we are at peace now with the Confederacy! And I will not risk loosing you!"
"No... I will fight him. But I will give him every chance to make amends, in the traditional way."
"He will not know our ways."
"Then he will die."
Folkvar stormed off leaving his mate, his howls echoing around the ship.

From his bed Brother Matthew heard the shouting, the sounds of fighting and the howling. Then it all went quiet and the door to the infirmary opened, letting in female Dewiek. She was smaller than Folkvar, but mottled and wore a long flowing dress.
"I never realised how passionate you people are."
"Thank you."
"For what?"
"For calling us people. Not animals. So many of your kind do that."
She checked his bandages and applied a salve from a sealed bottle. With her keen eye she checked his wounds and added a nannite compound to heal him quicker.
"What did I do to make him so angry?"
"You killed his.... our son. Assuming you are the monk that is being talked about, who caused so much damage to out pack."
"If I killed him it was only in self defence. There were some of your kind killing the innocent. I could not allow that."
"Did they die quickly?"
He looked over at her and took her in. As a Dewiek he believed she would be beautiful to them, but she had hidden muscle and was a fighter, that much she could not hide. To lie now, would be found out in time. No, the truth is always the truth, so shall it be.
"No, some of them didn't die quickly."
"My mate is going to fight you. In the ships arena. To the death."
"That is not a problem."
"What, you think you can win?" She asked with incredulity.
"Oh no, I will probably die. But that is not a problem. I have faced death too many times, I have prayed for my soul too many times. Maybe it is my fate to die here, amusement for the mob."
"I will never understand you hu-mans. But I think I like you."

It was several days later that Brother Matthew was led away from the medical bay and into the Arena. Deep in the heart of the ship the Arena was a place for settling disputes between crew, fighting prisoners and occasionally, just relaxing. But today it was obvious that this was something special. Clad only in his torn robes he was lead into the centre of the arena. Around him the crew howled and stamped, eager for the uncoming festivities. From a side annex Folkvar and his mate approached and stood in the middle of the arena. Folkvar wore nothing and his mate addressed the crowd.
"We fight today. One on one, in the traditional form. Our leader, Folkvar the Fallen against Matthew of the Brotherhood. Our leader fights to avenge the death of our cub, White Strides. If there is any who stand against us, and side with Matthew, do so now. This will be....," she looked at the human, "A fight to the death."
The crowd cheered and hammered on the benches infront of them. His mate departed and Folkvar walked up to Brother Matthew.
"You are fit and well and deemed able to fight by our doctors. You will fight me, we will fight to the death, for the memory of my cub. You can choose what weapons we use, not that it will give you any advantage."
"I do not need any weapons."
A hush settled over the arena.
"You will die, little man."
"Death comes to us all. Shall we begin?"
Brother Matthew backed away a few feet and moved into a defensive pose.

Folkvar leapt, howling as he attacked, his claws slashing towards the monk, missing by a whisker. The monk attacking him while he was open, doing nothing more than irritating him and he backhanded the monk, sending his flying. Matthew picked himself up, wiping the blood from his mouth and moving around slowly. Another leap and three red cuts were slashed across his back, but still he kept standing up. Folkvar walked over and punched the monk, sending him to the ground and punching him again and again. Matthew managed to block a few and even hit back with some lucky strikes. A punch to Folkvars head had his stepping back long enough to get back to his feet. They danced around each other a few more times until Folkvar slashed him again, and again and again. Despite bleeding profusely he continued to get back on his feet. Folkvar rolled and slashed low, tearing a hamstring and seing Matthew tumbling.
"You are weak. You will die out here unsung unpraised not even your skull will adorn my wall. And still you dare to fight me?"
Folkvar watched as Matthew, despite all the odds, stood up.
"I fight because my faith is strong even if my body is weak. Do your worst, you are an honorable predator and one i respect."
Matthew closed his eyes and started to pray. He felt Folkvar standing above him, smelt him, could feel the heat on his body.
The Fallen lowered his fist which would have delivered a killing blow. He reached down and lifted the monks head and waited til he opened his eyes and looked into them. What he saw shocked him. There was no look of fear, no look of hatred. There was the look of the zealot, the wild eyed look he always had himself when fighting against overwhelming odds. There was no way that the monk before him could ever win, and they both knew it. He lowered his arm... and stepped back.
"No. You are not prey. No prey I ever faced had such conviction."
A scream came from the audience.
"You must kill him!"
"No.. He has the strength of his god within him and even at the end he did not flinch. That... I cannot kill."
"You must, it is our way!"
"Hah! You say that to me? Folkvar the Fallen? Things change! And this fight is over. Tend to his wounds. If you want a fight... we go to Sector Command. I have not forgotten, nor forgiven the insults done to me. Who is with me?"
The crowd cheered and dispersed, heading to their stations. Folkvar turned and looked, his mate was standing with Brother Matthew, already rubbing salve into his wounds. He walked over and looked down at the monk.
"You, Brother Matthew, are an enigma to me. You kill my cub, but I can't kill you. Why is that?"
"Maybe because you recognise something of the animal in me. Or maybe, it is the will of the True One. Either way, neither of us dies today."
"Have you ever seen the Dewiek fight?"
"Other than when you are pounding me into the floor? No."
Folkvar laughed.
"Then you shall. I can't say I'll ever like you Monk, or your kind. But I respect you. And for me, that is enough. So come with us. I offer you a look at the Dewiek that few ever get to see."
"I accept, as long as I can have somewhere to sleep that isn't covered in wolf hair."
"Ha, you are funny little man. Tell me.... tell me about your True One. I would know what you are like."
"So you can one day attack us?"
"If we do, I think maybe... it would be a mistake. But what do I know, I am no longer in command.. I am just a Baron."
"Just nothing, you are still Folkvar, and that is something that people will remember long after I am gone."
"Then talk to me of your ways and your god."
"Okay... in the beginning there was the word....."
Folkvar's mate watched as the two sat on the blodied grounds of the arena and smiled. It was a start, she mused, but she'd still like to rip out his throat. She wouldn't, she smiled to herself, as she recognised in Matthew what she recognised in her mate, they were both survivors.

Crash and Burn - Innocent Lives

Brother Matthew awoke to the sound of sirens and the violent jarring of the ship. His neophyte was cowering in a corner, snivelling and recieved a just slap around the head. Pulling his cassock on and fastening his heavy belt he opened his copy of the teachings of the True One and picked a line at random. Only with fire is the devil purged, though fire can work both ways, for it is mischievous. He mused for a moment and pulled his bag from the overhead locker.
"Come along Tobias, we should ask the Captain why we have been disturbed."
"Master, it must be pirates! Who else would attack a confederate transport?"
Who indeed, he mused, perhaps it was wrong to take such a ship on the eve of the devil's work. The DEN were planning a hunt, a parody of honour, barbarism pure and simple. Animals, nothing more. And yet these animals might make a hunt of the True Ones servants, and that was not permitted.
"We shall see, come Tobias, and bring your bags. There is Gods work to do this day."

The Captain was calm, though he could see that all was lost. His two escorts were already burning, their hulls spinning, and one of the agressors was also dead. But there were two more. His maneauvers were good, but they were faster, his shields were good, but their weapons were faster than his recharge rate. And out here on the Rim there was no room for errors, and help might not come. So regardless of his orders, he swung his ship towards the planet and tried to run for it. The thought of jettisoning his cargo never crossed his mind. A cargo of pioneers, colonists for one of the outposts. There was no way he would let them be sport for the Dewiek.

Suddenly the ship started to shudder and whine, the engines slowing. He ordered more speed, but none came. Tractor beams? Damn them, they meant to board! He keyed the intercom.
"All hands, this is the Captain. Prepare for boarding, issue weapons to all who can carry them!"
He noticed the ships had stopped shooting him now. The large ship was maneauvering for boarding while the smaller one skittered around. With frantic hands he moved all available power to the engines, but it wasn't working. The ship was stopping and there was little he could do.

The two ships slammed into each other then rebounded slightly. An armoured docking tube from the Dewiek ship slammed into the transport, cutting torches burning into it's hull. Inside the hull portion slammed onto the floor and the civilians inside watched in horror, as the giant wolves walked into the ship, festooned with weapons. With a howl they cut down, their blood spattering the walls. On the bridge the Captain began lowering bulkheads and directing troops.

The civilians ran, along with some troops and ended up in the aft cargo hold. The soldiers held the advancing Dewiek off, bit by bit, but their numbers were thinning. Crying children, weeping mothers, and the stoic men of the Confederacy, proud to the point of death, armed with what weapons they could waited to pay for their lives with Dewiek blood. Outside the door the firing stopped and an intense banging started, a hammering and a howling. Weapons were trained on the corridor, a killing zone that lead to the door and then there was silence. All watched as the doors lock opened and slowly swung in. There were sighs and praises as they looked on the form of Brother Matthew, wreathed in smoke. Behind him his neophyte was making sure the bodies were dead and then they both stepped in and closed the door.
"Brothers and sisters. Fear not for they shall be here soon, and one way or another we shall see who is stronger this day. For I will stand and fight with you, as the True One stands with you. These animals are heathens, and do not know the way of the True One, but we shall give them a gift of the True One this day." With that he pulled a weapon from his bag and checked it. And indeed, etched along the side were the words 'Gift of the True One'.

The door to the aft cargo hold opened again and a wolf stood at the door while his companions looked at the dead around them.
"You cower in the darkness, hiding in the bowels of the ship, hoping we will not notice you. But we can smell your fear, smell the prey. Come out and face our judgement, or we shall come in and slaughter you all."
Brother Matthew stood his ground and gazed at the creature before him.
"Who are you to stand in my way? You, are you worthy? Or are you more cattle like these confederates?"
The great wolf walked a few steps into the corridor and stood astride it, slamming another cartridge into it's weapon.
"Oh I am worthy, O Devil. The question is, are you?"
"I am White Strides of the Dewiek and I come here to hunt our Prey. You, are not prey. But out here, what does that matter, I shall have your skull for my trophy wall."
The other Dewiek behind him turned and backed him up.
"And the Lord shall say unto his shepard, be warned of the wolf, for they shall prey on your flock. And thus the Lord gave his shepard the greatest gift."
White Strides howled with laughter.
"Holy man, you preach to those who do not believe. But you are true, we... WE are the wolves, and we shall prey on your flock."
"Then I have no other choice but to give you the greatest gift that my Lord gave me."
"And what is that, prey?"
There was a click and a hiss as a pilot light was turned on. Brother Matthew brought his gift up and let the Wolf see it for a moment and understand before he pulled the trigger.
"In the name of the True One, I call thee Devil!"
Gouts of liquid fire covered the Wolf and those behind him. Their screams were terrifying and echoed through the ship. Other Dewiek turned and headed towards them. Brother Matthew simply walked over the burning bodies, his Inquisitorial Robes immune to fire, behind him his neophyte singing hymns of the Inquisition.

Inside the Dewiek ship the pack leader checked his weapons and those of the crew with him. Something was going wrong, that fool White Strides had failed to take down a simple transport of colonists. He raised his head and sniffed then turned to the docking tube. At the end a man stood, holding a great flame thrower.
"If you had fought with honour, wolf, I would call you out and fight you one on one. But you slaughter without regard, innocent lives have been taken and that cannot be allowed. By the power of the Inquisition and the True One, I call thee Devil and send you back to the hell from which you were spawned!"
"Wait! You dare use a flame thrower in space? Are you insane?"
Brother Matthew pulled back the hood of his cassock. The eyes of the zealot glared back, daring him to say more.
"Thou shall not suffer a Devil to live. If it cost the lives of a hundred of my brothers I would still follow my heart."
The pack leader through himself aside as the torrent of flame poured into his ship and slammed his paw on the airlock quick close. On the other side he saw his men burning and felt the implosion as the docking tube cracked. Alarms sounded as the glass on the airlock cracked. He had enough time to howl one last time before he was sucked out when the glass gave way.

The Captain of the Transport felt his engines return and slammed them onto full throttle. Alarms were ringing all around the ship, people were screaming on his bridge but he kept heading to the planet. Computer screens were flashing, structural integrity was failing. When he was close enough to the planet he sealed the various holds and one by one ejected them on a safe trajectory, then instructed his crew to get to the life boats. He cursed the Dewiek and settled back into the seat as his ship started skimming the atmosphere. At least, he thought, the crew were safe.

Brother Matthew pulled himself out of the jettisoned hold and looked around. Desert stretched as far as the eye could see. Looking up he saw the remains of the transport as it finally disintigrated, the debris raining down like stars. With a sigh, and with his neophyte salvaging as much water as he could carry, they both started walking.
"Master, where are we going?"
"The True One will guide us, and that is all I need to know."

Ben al Ya'mir and the Search for the Codex Apocrypha

The wind howled across the desolate plains and towards the pinnacle of rock that dominated the area. A circle of black rock a mile high, carved and smoothed by hand, its countless steps worn away by the passing of devout disciples. For at the top of the black column is the Temple of the Worms. A fortress monastery that has stood for decades, a bastion of the Brotherhood from a bygone age. Now the fortress is in ruins, its noble structure which had stood unmolested for centuries was crumbling, decaying and waiting for the right time to offer up its secrets. Few had found the monastery, even fewer had left.

And thus it was that a lone ship discovered the planet and found the towering pinnacle with its ageless ruin. The vessel was the renowned "Realms of the Faithless", the Templar of the zealot Ben al Ya'mir. On the plain before the monastery lay the ships of three and ten crews who had happened upon the planet by accident, or by fate. As he walked among the ships he could see that while many had been there for many years, some were more recent. It was at the base of the carved stairs leading to the monastery that he grasped the cross around his neck as he beheld what had become of those who had come before him. A pile of skulls, some complete and grinning back, others broken into fragments.

At the top of the stairs Ben al Ya'mir beheld the fortress monastery and fell to his knees. The vast walls, battlements and towers stood proud, the gate far too vast for one man to open. He touched the baroque carvings on the door and felt the cold stone. The entire fortress, it seemed, was made of the same stone, carved out of the living rock, including the gate. There was no way in. It was exactly as he had beheld in the vision that had sent him to this moon.

He looked up and saw the brown and grey disk of the planet that filled the sky and began his prayer as the sun lowered over the horizon. All through the night he intoned incantations and prayers, seemingly in a trance. In the darkness outside the fires warming light strange creatures lurched, shadows crawled and animals howled. A strange glow enveloped him as he slipped deep into the Trance of Faith, as he had been taught by the Masters when just an Acolyte. When morning came and he awoke the fire had burnt through and the great gate of the fortress had opened for the first time in a thousand years. He had passed the test for which the key had been the Trance of Faith. The spirits of the monastery had sensed that the Brotherhood had returned and opened the gate once more.

He passed through the main gate and walked through a corridor towards a large open area. Over the millennia nothing had grown, leaving the ground as bare as the day the monastery was abandoned. Massive doors made completely of gold, silver and precious stones led to sights unseen and treasures untold, but Ben al Ya'mir looked around until he found a door he had seen in his vision and walked towards it. As he approached the doors he could see that around several were skeletons, some twisted, come crushed, others burnt. The penalty for choosing the wrong door had its price, those who lusted after the wealth that was offered behind the doors paid the price for their lack of faith. The door he stopped at was plain and made of wood, despite the years it had not aged, decayed or warped. The door opened when he turned the handle and led to an antechamber and another door. Above the door was a simple legend. The Temple of the Worm. The doorway to all he had dreamed of. The Temple where the tools of his serviture to the One True God would be found.

The Preacher

"Adeste fideles... Ave verum Dei!"

The cry of the Preacher resounds around the high dome of the colony. Once more he cried it before turning to the crowd who stood around him. The clothes and uniforms spoke of many affiliations, no few recognise the Preacher and who he represents.

"Te Deum Laudamus!"

"We don't praise the God of a lunatic mad man."

The Preachers thin hand flashed across the speakers face leaving two red streaks from his rings. the speaker, a Captain in the Stellar Patrol reaches for his sword, which the preacher deftly strikes from his hand with his staff. Ignoring the Captain he raises his arms high, the sleeves of his robes fall and reveals that they are heavily scarred. His voice deepened as he roars at the crowd.

"The God of which I speak is the God of the Brotherhood! The One True God!"

"Tell us of this God. Who is he?"

"No! It is treason to even listen to the Preacher. I will have you all arrested!"

The Preacher stands beside the Captain who is a good foot taller than him and rests a hand on his shoulder.

"Is it treason to listen to your heart? That is what you should do Captain. Did you have no doubts when you destroyed the Pirate Cruiser Achilles? Or when you crushed the riots on Rebellion? How much blood have you spilt because it was the orders of a man a thousand light years away? I know this. My God knows this."

The Preacher turns from the Captain and walks amongst the crowd, who part before him. His stick taps to every second footfall.

"The One True God is eternal! The winds call his name, stars prostrate themselves before him! With one command his will is done by the legions of faithful. Devoted followers who will allow nothing to stand in their way. You..." He points to a man, "Would you face untold odds to do what you could? Could you fight on a distant planet, watch your friends die and still be of the same resolve? Would you stand under the onslaught of enemy weapons constantly pounding you? Could you lead your men into a colony defended by five times your force? Would you?"

He points his stick at a man wearing a stained deep space flight suit.

"No I would not."

"Then why should he?"

He points to the Captain and the crowd turn to gaze.

"He. He has done all of what I have said. He has wept at the futility of Imperial conquests. He has dreamt of greater glory. That is what I can offer."

Amongst the bustle of the busy starport it seems silence has descended on the small group.

"Would you like to fight for a cause that is just and noble? Would you like to command a vast army of warrior monks and spread the word of your God? Would you like to sample the gifts of heaven? Would you like to know the way to Paradise?"

He steps closer to the man, the cowl on his robes raising slightly showing a deep, thick scar running down his neck. The man cringes slightly, to the Preachers amusement.

"Would you like to? There is much more than this. Come with me and I will teach you the ways of my God, the One True God. I can show you the way to true enlightenment and offer you the keys to Paradise."

"But the Brotherhood are..."

"Your only chance for salvation. When we march the bells toll and the banners fly high. There is much wailing and lamentation from the enemy who can see from the banners that the end is nigh! Follow me now, join the Brotherhood and learn the true meaning of prosperity, pleasure, honour and fear."

The Preacher walks through the crowd and towards the access ramps of the docking bays. He stops and turn around, those following him stop as well.

"Should I forget to mention, the Brotherhood are not violent by nature. We simply know how to defend ourselves. But when we are pressed, we will fight. Join the Brotherhood and we will defend our faith together. And should we fail then we will become stronger! Armies shall march to conquer and carry back our bones for burial, and we shall become the greatest Martyrs ever known."

The House of the Autumn Breeze - We All Have A Past

The heavy cruiser decelerated into the outer rings of the Borderlands system and waited, drifting under it's own momentum while it scanned the area. Trails of ships that had passed recently were still fresh but nothing was visible. Slowly, and with definite intent it turned it's stubby nose towards the a distant planet. Launch tubes cycled open at missiles were loaded, sensors were on full. Even from this distance the crew were tense.
"Captain, this is suicide. If they decide that they don't want us there they will destroy us without so much as a reason."
"Technically, we are allies. The FET and the BHD work together."
"The are fanatical bastards and I don't want to risk my ship!"
"Technically my ship, you work for me. If you don't like that, I can change it."
Carmilla D'Morenta looked up from the station she was sitting at and looked at the Captain of the cruiser. The captain was one of her friends, one of her Autumn Breeze girls, but that didn't make her stupid. There was truth in her words, there was always that risk.
"Believe me, I don't want to have this ship shot at, but we received the flight plans, the location of the colony, even details on how to get past the natives. Trust me, we'll be fine!"

Several hours later the ships alarms rang, waking Carmilla from her sleep. As she walked into the command deck she saw the reason through the bridge viewscreens. Dozens of large warships were in orbit, dozens more could be seen on scan. Space stations in orbit little more than orbital gun platforms tracked them. Sensors from at least three different factions scanned and analysed them. One by one they slowly passed.
"See, Captain. Nothing. Because we are allies and we are allowed here. Now, land at the co-ordinates given, but Captain, make sure everyone is armed."
"You don't trust the natives?"
"No, I don't. And I don't trust my fathers reasons for sending us down here either. So I'd like to survive."

There was no place to land so the ship simply crushed an area of the forest to make it's landing platform. One by one the ground party made it's way out of the ship and into the forest. They all checked their weapons and packs and Carmilla sauntered down the ramp and walked off. Although she couldn't see them she knew the locals were there. The sounds of the animals in the forest were loud usually, but here they were silent, as if being driven off by something.
"So what are we after here?"
"The back way into the colony. Should be over this rise. Father always liked to talk about this colony, said it was his favorite and he was sad to leave it."
"Yeah... Carm, I don't want to put a dampener on your day, but there is no colony here. That looks more like a resource dump."
She crested the rise and looked out. What was once a flourishing colony was now an overgrown ruin. Only a small area of the colony was still working, several rows of mines and factories churning out product while workers could be seen heading to the overgrown residential towers. It seemed someone was making a go of the place, unwilling to let it simply fade away. She turned back to the heavy forest and then sighed.
"We have a job to do, so lets do it."
It was the work of a few moments to locate the substation and open the door leading to a descending corridor. The sound of water dripping and little else could be heard. Torches were turned on and they walked in, scanning the walls and floor for any signs of security devices.
"Carm, are you sure we should be here? Trespassing on the Brotherhoods territory? There are rumors of what they do to people."
"Those are just rumors, we'll be fine....."
The corridor opened up into a great underground compound, all around the walls were decorated with the banners of an old Brotherhood House. Signs of fighting were visible all around, damaged warbots and scattered armor littered the floor. The walls were criss crossed in places with bullet and laser marks.
"No one has been here for a long time it looks like."
"I guess some things are best left hidden.... maybe there was a reason they left this place."
"Yeah.... I guess...."

"They never left, they were executed where they stood!"
The voice when it rang out caused the small party to fall into position, their weapons raised, eyes scanning to find the source. He spoke again, now walking out of the shadows by a darkened corridor, followed by heavily armed troops.
"You are trespassing. By the power invested in me I pronounce you all in violation of Brotherhood law and sentenced to summary execution. Do you have any last words?"
Carmilla followed the man, the monk approaching her, her weapon still raised.
"You dare point a weapon at me? Can you make your execution any more painful?"
"We can leave once we've come for what we need. There is no need for any violence."
The monk laughed.
"There is need, you are violating a sanctum that has been declared excommunicatis. Your presence here is enough to kill you all a thousand times over. Troops, take positions.... aim..."
"Stand down."
The words drifted across the chamber, soft yet full of command. A large monk in heavy purple robes walked into the room, flanked by the papal guard.
"Your eminence, you should not be here!"
"You tell me where I should go? You think I did not know of this woman's presence here? More that I should wonder why you are here?"
"Your eminence, it is written that that place was a sanctum of the De Vermis, one of the most heretical traitors ever to be excommunicated, we patrol here in case any of the taint returns."
The purple clad man walked towards Carmilla, his kindly face looking down at her, his hand gently pushing her weapon away from him.
"Your zealous nature does you proud, but this here is the daughter of one who was always loyal. And I had her sent here."
"But your eminence...."
"Leave us... or I will be forced to be... unpleasant."

The monk sat down on one of the piles of debris and looked at the group before him.
"Aaah please, my dear, if I wanted you dead you'd never have landed. The True one in his wisdom has sent you to me. And not without a little bit of guidance. In truth, my zealous companion was right, I should have you executed for trespassing."
"But.. you won't?"
"Oh good lord, no. I think it's far more likely that you will survive. You may even accept what I am going to offer you."
"A life in servitude to the Brotherhood? I don't think so. I never was one to be a slave."
"A slave? Is that what you think of us? You are the daughter of one of our darker members, a traitor and a heretic, a blasphemer and mass murderer."
"Are you talking about my Father?"
"Yes. And by my faith, you know I tell the truth."
"No. No! He was excommunicated, cast out!"
"Aaaah my dear. Are we incapable of sending out spies?"
"That's not possible, he was hunted down!"
"But never caught.... ever. That was his cover. And now, it is time for you to take his place."
"My father would have told me if he was still working for you. He would have told me!"

Her cries were more pleading than anything else. To be told, buy the enigmatic leader of the Brotherhood no less that her Father, far from being the cast out traitor she had believed, was still one of the faithful. And that she was being offered a position.
"Say I believed you for one minute. What post could you even offer me? There are too many who would remember and...."
"Remember what? You know how long ago we are talking. Time passes. People forget."
"Yes, but we all have a past."
"Yes we do, and yours have come back to bite you. It's simple, Carmilla D'Morenta, or should I say, Carmilla Porteus, you will join the Brotherhood, or I will have you, your family, your friends and everyone one you know executed."
She looked at him for a moment. The silence of the moment extended into minutes, then she laughed and lowered her self to her knees and bowed.
"Who am I to deny my family. The True One has always been watching me, I guess this is fate. I pledge myself to you, and my family once again to the service of the Brotherhood."
"Excellent, now rise, my young apprentice, you have much to learn and we have much work to do."
Carmilla rose, reaching up and tearing off the FET symbol from her shoulder and letting it fall to the ground. There was now a new beginning, and as she looked around and followed Algienon she smiled. Yes, we all have a past.

The House of the Autumn Breeze - Exceeding her Ability

Carmilla sat on the edge of the cliff and looked out over the vista below. Great crashing waves slammed with force into the reefs, the howling winds pelting an acidic mixture of chemical snow. Another vicious planet, no life, deadly on the day side, lethal on the night side. A planet more akin to the cold depths of the True Ones hell than a place to find treasure. She fought the wind and got to her feet, wiping the slush from her helmet and heading into the protective shell of the outpost. Years of neglect and being forgotten had taken their toll, and what was left was taken by those scavengers with enough savvy to steal without being detected. And yet, there was treasure.

One of her crew handed over the printouts that a whining computer was churning out. She matched them with the records she had. They matched, mostly. Nine years had brought on some changes, and yet, there were still secrets out there.
"Captain, we have to go, if we stay here another night I can't guarentee the seals will hold."
"That's okay. We have what we came for."
She crumpled the paper and threw it onto the floor.
"We've been on a wild goose chase."
Removing her helmet she breathed in deeply and coughed. The smell of corroding metal and a faintly cinnamon acidic scent wafting from the other room made her rub her eyes and sweep her hair back.
"The mineral that is here is exotic, but it's the wrong one. Maybe they changed the recepie from what Father was told..."
"Or maybe he didn't know what he was after?"
"Oh he knew alright.... his searches for this.... dominated part of his life, and earned him an excomunication... but he kept looking."
"Captain. If it's the wrong place, can we go?"
"Yes. But log it. This is still worth money to someone, and if we have enough thorlium we can come back, and begin drilling again."

As the crew started to take down the shelter they had built around the abandoned outpost she sighed. Chasing nine year old rumours and legends.... how was this supposed to help carve out an empire? Replacing her helmet she walked out into the snow that was now almost a blizzard. She kicked over the sample crates of Moxa. Treasure, but not economical. A waste of time and effort.
"There must be an easier way than this."

House of the Autumn Breeze

The old man watched the sun go down over the great shallow sea of Durobrivae. Already there were several women throwing wood from the shore onto the fire, the crackling flames sending sparks high up into the darkening sky to dance with the trails of the ships landing and taking off from the moon. He sighed and fell back into the large chair and held out his hand, a glass was placed within it almost instantly.
"Carmilla, I won't say I don't miss it, but I can't go back out there."
"I know father."
"But I get the call.... the lure of the frontier is out there."
"I know father."
The ice cubes in his glass jingled as he swirled the liquid.
"It will be up to you. When I was out there I had legions at my command, fleets. But no more, the disgrace, being banished here... I can't do it. I won't."
The woman standing beside him knelt infront of him and took his hands, the sleeves of the long kimono she wore covering both their hands. She smiled at him and squeezed gently.
"Father, I know. I'll be going out there with just the resources I have at my command, my closest friends."
"Yes, your Autumn Breeze girls."
Was that distaste in his voice? Or simply the bitterness of the old veteran.
"Yes, we will go out and carve out a slice of territory and make ourselves known. You know what we do, pleasure at any cost. For any who can afford our services."
"There was a day when I would have called you wh...."
She cut him off, standing up and straightening her kimono, her face a vicious scowl for a moment.
"I told you before, if you call me or my girls that again I would cut you. I don't care who you are, father, or who you were. I will cut you."
The low chuckling laugh from him softened her face, again, another of his tests.
"You are my daughter, Carmilla, but that may not be enough. Here, take this. It's the secure com-codes for an old friend of mine. I hope he is still alive. If anyone can give you that help that you need, it will be him."
He slipped a datadisc to her and then gestured her away.
"Now leave me be, but come back every now and then to visit. You want to go to the Yank System, you can get there through the wormhole. Goodbye, Carmilla, my daughter."
She kissed his cheek and walked down to the beach gesturing to her girls, who all fell in behind her.

The small fleet of ships took off, eight ships, a motley mixture of freighters, explorers and warships. From the bridge of the small scout ship she slipped the datadisc into the commstation and sat back. The details of the person flashed across the screen. Zuvoro Norozov, the Kumicho of the FET Cartel. She smiled, she had heard of him, was this the will of the True One? A lot of her plans could be moved forward with the Cartel, they were her kind of people. And they were the kind of people to expand the horizons of her Associates. Maybe her fathers adherence to the religion of the True One, which had rubbed off onto her, would put her in good stead as well. With a smile she put a call through to Zuvoro.