Story: Carnifex Mechanica
Dorav Mitchikin entered the Sovesh chamber with a bowed head and a sorrowful expression. It was a well-considered strategy, and one he had thought about for several hours before his entrance. How high to hold his head, where to put his hands... he almost smiled, but fought it back.
“Dorav Mitchikin, member of great Sovesh council, you are being treacherous criminal and committing offences against glorious Slavnye state. This being tribunal to decide appropriate punishment for highest treason.” The chairman glared at him. “You have a time being of five rouka for defense and excuses.”
“I am being of humble thankfulness to the great Sovesh council for this opportunity. Your graciousness reinforces your being magnanimous and just in all things.” He bowed lower, careful to keep his eyes on the floor. “I would like to begin my defense by stating that every thing I am being have done was for greater good of the glorious Slavnye state and-”
He was cut off by the bullet that passed elegantly through one side of his skull and out the other. As his body slumped down, the Chief Commissioner of the Sovesh council put his gun away.
“No respite. Treason is being punishable only by death.”
The council muttered in approval. A round of applause spread around the gallery.
“Now, we are being onto the agenda. First item is being the question of this Viperius Galaxy.” A vidscreen folded down from the ceiling and displayed the vibrant spiral of Viperius. Overlaid on top were moving labels and icons showing detail about the civilisations and their empires, information revealed by spy probes or given by the Irihil.
“There are being many civilisations here for being recruited. Particularly interesting are those known as ‘Salsenes’, ‘Iridi’ and ‘Kree’. These races are being in possession of substantial military power, and have armies being of reasonable size.”
“It is being extremely important to recruit now as intelligence reports are being indicating that the War Machine is being mobilising to attack this galaxy next. Their technological inferiority will make them being easy prey for War Machine fleets, and then factories and strategic structures are likely to be being built that might overwhelm glorious Slavnye forces.”
“However, I have become aware that many members of the councils are opposed to recruiting Viperius sapients. I am being of the belief that members of my very own Sovesh are being opposed. This is being an unacceptable situation.”
The Sovesh was silent.
“I am being in possession of a list of names, provided by disgusting traitor under torture. I will read for you all present here that are being on this list.”
He took out his PDA and read.
“Yosek Marhatov. Akulina Desorova. Lyosha Lutin. Androf Olga.” He looked up. “Please come down.”
Three Slavnye walked, attempting feebly to mask their fear, down to the front of the stage. The Chief Commissioner shot each in the head with his pistol.
“Akulina Desorova. You have not come down.”
“I am being not guilty!” She called out.
His face grew even sterner than before. He motioned to the guards, and the councillor was seized from behind and then dragged down in front of the Commissioner.
He leant down to look into her eyes.
“There is no ‘not guilty’.” He stood back up. “Send her to exhaust wasteland. Shoot there.”
As the soldiers dragged her off, the Commissioner looked at the unread name on the list. He pressed delete and put the device down.
Demetrus Anzhelov sat outside the Commissioner’s office, hands clasped together and eyes shut in contemplation. He opened them, revealing deep blue irises that contrasted the yellow around them. With a sigh, he regarded the armoured door of the office and wondered what would happen to him once inside.
There were two secretaries and twelve guards there. Demetrus had been here before, a long time ago when he was working on FTL technology. The Commissioner had got him the position as Minister of Engineering, and shown a surprising amount of favour to the young scientist. It was rather strange.
He picked up a newspad from the table. It was the same old thing- a page on one victory, a page on another. Most Slavnye probably didn’t realise that if the even so much as listed the losses in the back, the file would be double this size. They were not in a good place- and once you lost an intergalactic war, you had nowhere to go.
The outer door to the office opened, and Demetrus turned to look. Behind was a thick grille, which rose up afterwards. Several sentry turrets retracted into the door frame. A lasernet deactivated. Another bulkhead opened. A hundred-armed combat robot withdrew into the ceiling. More bulkheads, and finally netting of razorwire too thin to see was lifted up to reveal the office interior. The entrance was more like a corridor than a porch.
Two guards moved to stand behind the scientist, and he stood up. He always felt enormous angst going in, and kept looking from side to side, panicking more than a little.
He reached the end, and stood in the Commissioner’s enormous study.
It was beautifully decorated. Probably the only room in the Slavnye... (empire?) ...that was more than grey and white cubes and propaganda displays. Sure, other races were told that they were just a race that didn’t enjoy art. But here was at least one Slavnye who loved culture, and his room was filled with it.
Within glass cases and around the walls were hundreds of artifacts. Demetrus recognised Irihil bas-reliefs, ten suits of Keraran armour, a disassembled Lentaa plasma cannon, a number of Yraath swords, a damaged Cephalid casing, a Styhacian skull, an antimatter injector from a Tarsk ship, the arm of an Aian dreadnought, a Ka’Shen shield generator, and the pride of the Commissioner’s collection.
In the centre of the room, in a diamond case bordered with pink bismuth, was a War Machine Assault Unit, both arms removed but still the most terrifying form known to the Slavnye. Demetrus could not help but shrink back from its vacant eyes, even knowing that it was a hollowed-out husk. It was the only unit to have ever been recovered, as its self-destruct had somehow failed. The scientist entertained the thought that perhaps the War Machine had meant for it to come here, but then forcefully expelled it from his mind.
“Demetrus, my son.” The commissioner lay relaxedly on his couch, a platter of exotic foodstuffs beside him.
“Commissioner.” Demetrus bowed.
“I called you here for there is being a problem.”
“You were named under torture.”
The scientist swallowed. But he hadn’t been called out in council... was some worse fate being reserved for him? His eyes widened.
“I do not believe that you are being a traitor.”
“I thank you for your faith in me, sir.” Demetrus bowed. “I assure you that it is being always justified.”
“I know.” The Commissioner took a drug-pipe from the table and took a puff, allowing the faintly blue smoke to drift away towards his Minister. “I trust you. Alayna agrees with me.”
Demetrus did a double-take. “Sir?”
“Don’t you, Alayna?” The Commissioner looked as if he was listening to something, and then sat back, smiling. “See, Demetrus?”
“There’s no-one else in the-” He stopped himself, and started again. “I humbly thank you.”
“You are being very welcome. I have one thing more to say to you.”
He put the pipe down and picked up a datapad. Casually, he tossed it to Demetrus, who caught it roughly.
“The War Machine plans to attack Viperius. You are being assigned to assist Marshal Inova in stopping them.”
The scientist suddenly felt very cold. “Yes, sir.”
“That will be all.”
Two silver-armoured guards entered to lead him out, but all he could think about was his death at the hands of the War Machine.
Xatos and Teloctes clinked their glasses together in a drunken cheers and then knocked them back, savouring the warmth that poured down their throats. Clumsily setting the empty glasses down, they lay back and admired the view out across the city. The lights of Karisia were four dozen different colours, and skyscrapers reached up into the grey of the nighttime sky, stars invisible due to the enormous light pollution from below.
“This is the last time we’ll have to say goodbye to Karisia, Xat. Our last day-before-the-tour.”
“Yeah. I’m never leaving the planet again once I’ve come back.”
Teloctes gestured meaninglessly at the sky. “We might die this time. Got quite close last war.”
Xatos laughed gently. “Yep.”
“I wonder what Captain Phedonos will think of the number of hungover specops he’ll have to deal with tomorrow.”
Xatos adopted a gruff voice. “If yer not gonna come sober, yer not gonna leave alive.”
They laughed together, still staring upwards. Teloctes clicked his mandibles loudly. “It’s tough being the best of the best, eh?”
“We’re the First Legion and we don’t give a krag.”
“What’s the name of that planet, anyway? The one we’re being dispatched to?”
“Oh, let me get my mind together. It’ll come.” Teloctes massaged his head gently.
“Did it begin with T?”
“Yeah. Te- Te-” He hit himself on the headplate. “Tempestus!”
“And, um, why are we going there?”
“Some advanced mechanical race has been killing folks. They called for an army to assist them and instead they’re sending us.”
Another Iridi, this time wearing armour, stepped out onto the balcony. “Corporal Xatos, Sergeant Teloctes.”
They sat up at their names, and saluted badly. “Sir!”
“Come to the ships. We’re leaving early.”
On the surface of Tempestus, a large, blue and whorled spaceship sat in the centre of a ruined city. Most of its occupants were busy exterminating the remainder of the populace, but their commander and his assistants remained in the control room.
“Direct a ten-unit force to sector z-e-51-e! Annihilate their defensive emplacements!” It ordered in a grating, mechanical voice. “The Cephalid Empire will tolerate no resistance!”
Out in the sky, ten units swerved away from shooting civilians on the streets and flew towards their new destination, repeating the order. “Annihilate! Annihilate! Cephalids annihilate all resistance!”
Flak guns fired amongst them, but the little shells were ineffective against their repulsors. In contrast, the Cephalid lasers drilled straight through the concrete and steel of the planetary defenses, and reduced the fleshy soldiers and little vehicles to charred matter on the pavement.
The Cephalid Commander’s tentacles squirmed joyfully. “This world shall become a colony of the Cephalids! We shall use this planet as a stepping stone in our invasion of the Viperius Galaxy! Annihilate all living things, and then dedicate this world to production of our legions!”
“The galaxy shall be ours!” Ten thousand units chanted at once. “This galaxy shall be the domain of the Cephalids!”
A light flicked on, and Armande walked into the room. "We can talk in here," he said to Klammen, his trusted friend. They sat down at a stone table in the middle of the room, its surface coated in shining steel.
The two piloted a small Asper exploratory vessel when they could. They did it alone. Both were formerly miners, but were laid off during a temporary economic downturn. Exploration was the next best thing.
As Armande ruffled through a collection of notes, Klammen said, "Have you gotten details for all the species we're concerned about?"
"Indeed." Armande took a deep breath. "We've been at peace for so long, but the more powerful species... need to be watched. They're unpredictable."
"So what have you got."
"Well," Armande started, "there's always the Sabud. I know, I know, they're old friends. But they're growing. Technologically, they're on a roll. With their ships, their bots---"
Klammen snorted. "Don't get me started about bots."
"The feeling's mutual. Anyway, there's no point in going through the Aians... I like them, I suppose, but they're just weird. And secret. Next... Flesh Thieves. Their status is pretty much firmly down on the bad side. I'd rather not go into details of the Harvests."
"You considering petitioning to put them on the X Wanted?" The Extraterrestrial Wanted list was simply a list of sapient races that the Asper opposed. It was government-run, and was updated every now and then.
"If possible. See for yourself." Armande passed a file across the table, and Klammen took a look at it. After a while, he passed it back. He looked rather green.
"Let's move on," he said.
"Gladly. The Elisri are a strange bunch, they never come outside their ships. Nobody knows what they look like. They don't appear often, but when they do their ships give you a whallop. After looking at a few records of battles, I'd say that if we ever were to come upon them, we'd probably win. But only if we had warships with us."
"Kerarans and Xenos, we're already clear on. The Yraath are those we'd want to watch out for. They're ruthless. Scourge of their galaxy, so on and so on."
"Alright. Something I want to go over as soon as possible. Daemons."
Armande paused. "I haven't been able to find much. Generally they stay in their universe. However, on ocassion... it would be bad."
"That's all really."
Klammen furrowed his eyebrows. "Coatzl?"
"Still nothing. It's difficult, annoyingly, with many of the more suspect species."
"Nothing on the Cyrians, by any chance?"
There was a large pause in the room, as Armande looked up from his notes for the first time during the discussion.
"We went over one more last night," Klammen finally said.
"War Machine. What do you know."
Armande stared deep into Klammen's eyes.
"Oh, too much. Way too much."
A Dsarune soldier sliced the body of an enemy in two and turned its attention to the approaching dreadnoughts before dying itself at the hands of high firepower. High in the sky, army battled army with nukes and cannons.
Far down on the planet below, the High Emperor of the Yraath watched the battle unfolding on Varana's barracks moon. He thought the Dsarune were feeble. Tiresome. And he knew full well the only reason the petty crabs still lived is because his soldiers weren't bothering to try hard. There was no need; any other race would be defeated with the flick of a finger. He decided to keep the Dsarune around for fun.
The High Emperor's balcony overlooked the endless jungle at dusk. Various flying creatures, some large and some small, emerged from the trees and flew across the waning sun. But the High Emperor did not watch the scenery.
He took a plate of food from a Lehan servant and gave it a glance of contempt. It was a shame Lehan were distasteful; they were all feathery mush and no meat. Well, that's what the Primads were for.
The noble Yraath stretched his limbs and sighed in thought. This battle would be over shortly, and he was already planning the next conquest to take place. Most of the wars remaining in Kamodan were little ones. Unimportant.
There was always Viperius, he thought. But no. The Yraath had their plans, and patience was virtue. Better to begin well than to end well.
In the darkening sky, he went through a mental list of possible targets. Most of them were rather boring.
But as the sky was lit only by the light of the moon and the glow of bombs and artillery, he remembered one race that the Yraath knew very little about, had never before encountered, and was possibly fairly matched.
The War Machine had always remained something of an enigma. Bu that did not matter. They were merely machines. Machines, even AIs, always had faults. Only a true Yraath Conqueror had no faults. And anyway, the War Machine had a one-track mind. Through the High Emperor's eye, that really made it quite stupid.
And now it was time for it to realize who was the real master of the universe.
The High Emperor called for his servants, and told them to make a note.
Deep under a hill on a planet named Kaedel's Hope, a starship had lain dormant for hundreds of years. After making an emergency crash landing long ago, the planet had engulfed it, dirt and rocks settling over a dead metal husk. Not a single soul had ever found it.
A small Zyrothan walked by, on a leisurely stroll. He noticed something, just out of the corner of his eye, and when he turned he saw something shiny sticking out of the hill, covered by grass and seeds.
He walked up to it, to mke sure it was not an illusion. It wasn't.
Certainly, it was a strange design. Too little was sticking out to determine much, but it just had a veil of strangeness about it.
Ever so gently and gingerly, the Zyrothan touched it.
There was a whirring noise, and the object suddenly exploded out of the hill, the tip of a giant blue drill. A loud, computerized voice spoke, slightly muffled from the depth of the hill: ENDOTHERMIC LIFEFORM OF MODERATE SIZE DETECTED. POSSIBLE SIGN OF CIVILIZATION. REACTIVATION AND RESTABILIZATION IMMINENT.
The hill disintegrated around the drill and the starship, the hull no longer shining but dirty and tarnished. The Zyrothan merely stepped back, in both fear and awe. When the ship fully emerged, a light came on in the side of the hull.
A door appeared, and opened. Ten figures walked out, all identical, all cloaked. Before the Zyrothan could make a move, he was grabbed by two of the figures. "This individual should be suitable for testing," one of them said.
"Indeed," said the other. "But it feels well to see the sun again."
A fourth figure went into the ship, and re-emerged with a metal vial. One one side, it was decorated with a red star, and on the other, a symbol. "Inside."
The Zyrothan was pushed past switches and dials, but before he knew it he was thrown into an empty room. It was blank. Not white, but colorless. The only interruption in the blankness was a small window next to the door, which promptly locked. In a brief moment, he saw a figure send the vial up into a tube through some sort of suction.
The vial reappeared in the room from the ceiling, dangling from a wire just above the Zyrothan's reach. A robotic arm appeared next to it, and as gently and gingerly as the Zyrothan's own touch, lifted the cap off the vial.
"We apologize for this, but the whole multiverse may depend on it if we don't use someone to test our acquired artifact," a figure said from the other side of the window. "You may experience a bit of pain or abnormal symptoms, but trust us, they won't last."
It was true, the Zyrothan was starting to feel a bit funny, but before he could speak, the figures disappeared from the window, and nobody ever heard him again.
"Truthfully, it was a bit harsh," a figure said to the others. "Normally we wouldn't do this to an unsuspecting, innocent citizen of a foreign planet. But we all know the stakes."
"Indeed. The entities we acquired it from are still out there, but any instances are usually isolated. We can only hope that nobody acquires it for malicious purposes. And it is logical to assume that it can be used for good as well. We can eradicate all the hostile species and leave only peace."
"Indeed. This is the way that the Benthos Monks will rise again."
On board the Slavnye Battleship GSU Vatrioshka, Marshal Inova sat in her chair, looking from one vidscreen to another. She tapped the arm of the seat impatiently, and gave the bridge officers around her vicious glances as they hurried about.
Demetrus wandered around behind her, muttering things under his breath. He’d been assigned to help defeat this War Machine incursion- but how? There were research labs and factories on board, sure, but not enough scientists. Perhaps they could erect weaponised megastructures like the Aians- but did they have the time? Perhaps they could refine the technology of the sapients they met- but would mass-production be possible before the War Machine arrived?
He knew for a fact that the Slavnye would be outgunned and outnumbered. Perhaps using drones as superluminal missiles would counterract this- who knew? He couldn’t really decide on a plan. If it could, the War Machine would probably be laughing at their efforts right now.
“It is being how far to Viperius, Marshal?” He asked.
“One hundred ten light-years. It is only being a few minutes.”
“We are arriving before the War Machine?”
“Intelligence claims yes. I am being less sure.”
Demetrus nodded slowly. How would Intelligence find that out anyway? He didn’t really trust a word that came from the black-walled department with its agendas and espionage quotas. There was an Intelligence office on board this very ship, but it was a few dozen kilometres away. He didn’t feel like going on the train to see them.
Looking through the vidscreen, Demetrus could see Viperius, side-on. The blue shift was compensated for by the computer, so he was seeing it in more or less true colour. It was quite a pretty galaxy, he noted. He took a look at the map of it- they were staying near its outer rim during the preparations. The War Machine liked concentrated, precision strikes, so it would probably end up as a pitch battle near a planet. There were a few habitable planets in this region, but not many. Stars on the ends of arms tended to be metal-poor and so planets were less likely to form.
Here was quite a nice one- ‘Tempestus.’ There was apparently a multi-species colony there.
“How is this planet being for our initial stop?”
The Marshal shrugged. “It is being as good as any other.”
The ships of the Iridi First Legion departed Karisia with a powerful burn of their drives. Xatos watched his homeworld grow smaller through the window, and sighed. When he next came back, he was staying there forever.
Teloctes was nursing his hangover beside him, covering his head with his hands. They were on board the battle cruiser Courage, a 500m-long ship holding several thousand troops. There were six other battle cruisers and ten destroyers accompanying them, but they were on board the flagship that Lower Admiral Hiros commanded from.
Captain Phedonos stood up to look over his NCOs, fully knowing that none were in a good state.
"Pull yourself together, sergeant." He shook Teloctes gently.
"Yeeees siiiiir." It was more of a hissy groan than a reply.
Ensign Inthus was on the computer, looking up everything he could find about this Tempestus planet. It was widely accepted that Inthus knew absolutely nothing about military service and had flunked his officer's exams, but been pushed through due to his uncle's influence. He just wanted to stay indoors and read, really.
In contrast, the others were all pretty rough soldiers. The other corporal, Mena, had been raised on the streets and been offered military service as an alternative to prison. She was one of the finest soldiers the First Legion had ever known, amusingly enough.
The PA sounded. "Entering travelspace in five."
The ship began to accelerate drastically, pushing gently against the occupants with a force that the dampeners countered quickly. Then they left the universe behind and the outside was a whirling mass of blue and yellow- the Crossverse. Rifts as far as the eye could see, Julth feeding from enormous bloated Rift-Stars...
And then they returned to Emenata.
"Three more jumps and then we're there. Just over an hour."
The Captain yawned, stretching as he did so. "Enough time for some precision drills, I think."
On the surface of Tempestus, a group of Salsenes and Vrah held on inside a bomb shelter. The Cephalids were burning through from above, and the air was getting hot and stagnant.
Their leader, a Salsene officer, turned to his troops with a smile. "I don't care if they're going to come in and kill us, because I spent my last moments with soldiers like you. We should be proud."
"We are proud, sir. We wouldn't have chosen any other way."
"Alright. Let's make this a last stand to be remembered." He pointed his Blazer at the entrance, and there was the sound a dozen guns being cocked behind him.
The molten line around the door had reached its starting point, and there was a crunching sound as it was wrenched from its frame. A Cephalid hull appeared in the entrance, and was met by a hail of fire from within, crashing into its repulsors entirely ineffectually.
"Inferior beings will be annihilated."
A laser swept from right to left, and the defenders were gone.
The Cephalid fired a missile into the tunnel, causing it to collapse and fill with rubble, and then flew off.
"Defensive emplacements annihilated!"
"We now control this planet. For the Cephalid Empire! Make this world our factory!"
The voices of the Cephalid legions rang out. "All shall fall before the Cephalids!"
Armande and Klammen stepped out of their ship onto hard ground. They had landed on a Sabud-controlled planet. Its name wasn't very important; they weren't going to be here for very long.
"This place gives me the creeps," Armande said, staying within the safety of the ship's entrance. "Why are we here again?"
"Business," Klammen mumbled. "The Embassy thought the Sabud may have encountered the War Machine at some point, and those on the colony worlds know most about them. That is, when we find someone to talk to."
They were in the middle of a luxuriant city. Majestic, towering buildings were nestled in the trees, sitting on the ground, and hiding under the soil. Immense glass towers even rose from the middle of a distant, glittering lake. But there was no wind, no noise, no Sabud. Empty.
"Are you sure this is the right place?"
"Maybe it's lunch hour."
"I would doubt that the secondmost advanced civilization in the Nephyen Galaxy has a lunch hour."
"You're just unimaginative."
Suddenly, from nearby, there was a coughing and panting sound. "Hold it," Armande said, and stepped back slightly.
"Hey, don't get too high-strung," Klammen said. "Just someone walking over here. Let's see if they can direct us to the government office around here.
Sure enough, the Sabud came around the corner. But he was limping and panting, clearly tired from some physical exertion. It stood there for a minute, supporting its weight on the side of a building, before raising its head up with some effort and looking straight at the two Asper.
"Get out while you can," it gasped. And it fled.
Armande and Klammen stood there for a moment, confused.
"What was he so worked up about?" Armande said, a trace of nervousness in his voice.
Klammen turned, and shrugged.
"Maybe the lunch meat went bad."
There was a long period of silence, and then a deep rumbling noise.
Across the other side of the lake, bearing down on the shore, thousands of robotic shapes appeared above the horizon, walking across the beach and hovering above the ground. A wave of blazing fire from behind them silhouetted their forms. The glass towers in the middle of the lake shattered and collapsed into the sparking water. Dim shapes appeared in the sky, and huge nuclear explosions incinerated trees and buildings around the area.
Armande didn't need an incentive to dash into the ship, and Klammen followed suit. They sped out of the atmosphere as an antiproton beam obliterated the city they were standing in seconds earlier.
As Klammen piloted, Armande looked out a back window and saw Dreadnought Saucers razing the entire planet's surface in an instant. Within seconds the colony world was only a memory, and the War Machine moved on.
"I think we're gonna need some backup."
"My loyal citizens, we finally have a worthy challenge!"
The High Emperor of the Yraath was in a palace balcony, speaking to his soldiers listening below. The plaza could hold a total of three million Yraath shoulder-to-shoulder, and the place was packed to the brim.
"No longer must we play with the Dsarune, the Lehan, or the Galour like mere toys!" the High Emperor proclaimed, regal in his flowing robes. "There is a new enemy in the universe to fight. They are not organic, but entirely mechanical. They are powerful, terrifying, and have razed a hundred galaxies clean. But they will be no match!"
This statement was met with a roar from the crowd.
"They have traversed the entire universe, with only the intent to destroy. Yet that will not be enough to save them! We will conquer them! Use them! And then...we shall control the universe itself!"
Unbeknownst to the Yraath, far away on a distant planet, the Dsarune Overlords sat and spoke and had a plan.
"The High Emperor is becoming a bit...aheh...fanatical again," one of them hissed.
"Radio signals that the Warriors have picked up state that the Emperor has found a new race that he wishes to destroy," another sneered. "While he is distracted and leading his armies, we may strike."
"We will swarm them all and enact revenge on these disgusting lizards. And then we will control the whole of Kamodan and possibly beyond."
"They will not have the power to fight back. They will not have the resources to survive. They will not have anywhere to hide. And they will not be fast enough to run..."
A loud scuffle from across the room caused the Dsarune to turn their heads. One of the Overlords slithered over to the immense box that rested on the floor. It actually extended higher than the eye could see, and almost as wide. The walls were two meters thick and made of black diamonds. It was partly for show and partly for protection. Normally, they would even get out of a cage like this, but these ones were nice.
"Hush now, my good dogs of war. Your time will come soon, and then you can kill and eat all you like. Patience."
It seemed to hiss in contentment, and then it was silenced.
The Dsarune turned back to its comrades, and spoke to all their soldiers. "Between our armies, our weapons, and the beasts, we will be unstoppable!"
Deep inside the glistening cage, the Star Demons waited for their feast.
The Monks merely called it the Plague. It had a real name, but they did not know what it was, nor did they care. It also had specific effects on the victim, but they never bothered to figure them out, and didn't care really.
Inside the ship, the central hall was the largest room. Granted, it was only three meters across, but much bigger than any of the other rooms. A star decorated the far wall, and a symbol on that wall was circled, carved permanently into the metal.
"Now that we have tested the Plague on a single individual, we should examine its effects on an entire planet," a Monk said. "If it does not work effectively on a large scale all may be for naught."
"That can't be done," said another. "If it works, it will spread, and that would be a premature strike. It would also not be able to be controlled. Our job now is to refine the plague so it will affect only a single species."
Other Monks nodded in agreement.
"If that is the truth, then it is so."
"You must remember. We are here to save people, and not destroy them. Even a single casualty of a test subject does not seem ethical to us. Once we have rid all of space of the units, we will find the rest of the Monks and build a new civilization."
The second Monk rose to his full height. "Now it is time to depart from this planet. I think we have slept too long. We shall find the War Machine, and even it will not be safe from the Plague."
The Slavnye flotilla pulled into orbit around Tempestus. They had discovered that something was off long before, having detected the tell-tale radiations of nuclear weaponry and advanced spatial drives, but it was not until they got this close that they could truly appreciate how thoroughly the planet had been devastated.
Cities were replaced by masses of charred rock, some with flames still raging across them. The sky was physically darker due to the dust and smoke, and there were accumulations of burnt material in the ocean that were visible from space.
But there were signs of the new occupants, too. Enormous silver towers- the Cephalid factories- had sprung up in the centre of one city, under rapid construction. Cephalid ships were already heading upwards towards the Vatrioshka and its companion ships, scanning them aggressively. Inova was unimpressed- she knew that the Cephalid ships would be easily destroyed, tiny as they were in comparison to the Slavnye battleship.
A communications signal was received.
"Put it being on the screen."
The hull of a red Cephalid appeared, glowing lights along its front.
"You are an unknown species! Identify yourselves!"
"This is being the GSU Vatrioshka of the Glorious Slavnye Forty-Fifth Attack Fleet. We are being representatives of the Slavnye in this region."
"Why do the Slavnye bring warships into Cephalid space? Your incursion is unacceptable!"
"We are being in search of other species to fight the War Machine."
The Cephalid commander moved closer to the camera. "Elaborate."
"The War Machine is being one of the most powerful factions in this universe. It is being an entity composed of innumerable mechanical ships and units that are being in control of hundreds of galaxies and are having destroyed millions of species, organic and otherwise."
"This War Machine appears to be a worthy ally of the Cephalids! We shall gain their assistance and together create a universe-wide empire!"
"They would destroy you on sight. The War Machine is not being an alliance-maker."
Inova pressed a button, and terabytes of records were transferred to the other ship. Nothing that could show any Slavnye weakness, they had made sure of that, but enough to give the Cephalids an idea of what the War Machine did.
"We are forced to concur. The War Machine is an unsuitable ally. It must be annihilated!"
A chorus of Cephalids from behind it. "Annihilate! Annihilate! Annihilate!"
Demetrus walked up to the screen. "You are not being sufficiently powerful to fight the War Machine. You are but thousands and producing few new units."
"We shall create a Cephalid Empire spanning this galaxy and more! Our fleets shall number billions!"
"It is not being that way right now, and the War Machine invasion fleet is arriving here within days."
"Then the Cephalids will execute a strategic withdrawal, and gain numbers until battle becomes possible!"
"No. You are having to fight now, or their beachhead will be secure and they are being far faster at production than your kind."
"The Cephalids shall withdraw to a galaxy in which we can expand!"
"Where would you go, and who would take you in? The space between galaxies is not being safe for races such as yours. You are having heard of the Aians, Aoarus, Irihil, Kerarans..."
"We know of these races. They would not allow us exit." The Cephalid commander dropped slightly in the air.
"That is being correct."
"And... you would have us battle the War Machine?"
"If you are being assisting us, we may be able to get you safe passage. There are being no promises."
"We have no choice but to assist you. Allow us to prepare until then."
The channel ended.
Demetrus looked at Inova, and she looked at him. "We are being in need of more."
"One more jump!" Came the pilot's reassurement as the Iridi flotilla dropped back into Emenata. Drills had been done, supplies dispensed, and weapons cleaned. The platoon were resting in the dropship bay, waiting it out with bored expressions.
The sergeant turned to look.
"How many drops is this for you?"
"20. 67 including simulated, sir."
"Quite the redder, then?"
Teloctes fiddled with his folded bandana. Ten real drops got you a red one, and such was his. "Yeah."
"Xatos, how about you?"
"19, every single one with the sergeant, sir."
"Ah, very good. And Mena?"
The other corporal looked up. "12, sir. Including Yottuch and Tehos."
"Ah. I wasn't there at Tehos."
She looked down. "It was a massacre."
"But you pulled through."
"We held out, sir. Until the Aians turned up. And they had to drag our sorry asses back into the sunlight, because we were too afraid to move."
"Yottuch was bad. I was a sergeant in the sixth back then, but promoted on return. At least we stopped the Kerarans from getting to Solin."
"What was your worst, sergeant?"
Teloctes looked at Xatos. "Mantrus." They said together.
"Mantrus." Phedonos said it slowly and bitterly. "Krag."
"Only survivors of the twentieth light, us two. Got picked up by Sairax himself."
"You met Sairax?" The captain leaned forward, eyes gleaming.
"He was a great man, sir. One of the best soldiers there ever was." Xatos mused.
Teloctes smiled. "We got to see him in action. The Mantrids never stood a chance. We fought right behind him inside objective beta, the Xsan Citadel, sir."
"They say your bullets ran out a third of the way in."
"It's true, sir. We were on our knives for most of it, as Mantrid weapons couldn't be used by other species. When it was all over, we sat down in their throneroom, covered in blood, and made tea."
Phedonos laughed. "That sounds like him."
Xatos grinned. Teloctes did too.
The speaker beeped.
"Just about to jump, sir. We're almost there."
The comm turned off, and the captain turned back to his NCOs.
"Tell me more about him."
"Get me the head office, delta zed three nine. No questions please," Armande said as he waited for the video image to come through. Klammen was piloting.
The War Machine was afoot. Merciless and emotionless. Destroying everything in sight. And in spitting distance of the Asper. That kind of made it a big deal.
A gruff-looking Asper wearing a blue dress coat appeared on the screen. "This is the alpha defense officer. What do you want, and why did you call?"
"The War Machine is here! It's in Nephyen!" Armande yelled.
"The War Machine? Come now," the alpha defense officer said, "don't be ridiculous. The War Machine has never entered the galaxy, and if it did we'd know about it."
"Well, it has now."
The alpha defense officer narrowed his eyes. "I'm afraid I'm going to need some proof about that. We get enough prank calls as it is, and the War Machine is serious business."
Armande though quickly. "Do you know about Ninth Reinhart?"
"The Sabud colony? Yes. Why?"
"What were your last records of the planet?"
"Records? Well, I hear they've been in a spot of bother recently. But the Sabud are always getting worked up about something."
"Do you have any visuals?"
"No. How does this---"
"Then call the Sabud Minister Akira. He'll know."
The alpha defense officer gave Armande a long stare before switching the sound off on his end. He could be seen pressing buttons on a keypad and then picking up a telemote.
Armande couldn't read his lips, but after a minute the alpha defense officer nodded and put down the mote. He switched the sound back on.
"Not even mass hysteria. The War Machine is coming. I'll ring up the Elite Chief; we'll take care of things from here. In the meantime, get yourselves back to Amyae and rest up. After all, you're witnesses. We might need you."
And the feed was cut.
The alpha defense officer sighed. After all these years, what was feared was about to happen. Wartime was upon them.
He dialed on the keypad, and picked up the telemote.
"Sir? I regret to inform you that we finally have to take arms. Something is here. Do you know of any friendly races that could possibly stand up to the War Machine?"
"My Minister Akira! There is a problem!"
On Reteos, the Sabud were in a state of crisis. Ninth Reinhart had been razed---no, obliterated---no, entirely vaporized by the War Machine. There were evacuations but it was still a blow. And Minister Akira Lamat needed no more problems now.
"What now?" he asked the messenger who had come to him.
"There are ships! Many ships! Heading towards Reteos!"
Lamat stopped dead in his tracks. "War Machine? Oh---"
"Not War Machine! We believe they are Yraath!"
Lamat brightened up for a moment, before he remembered the Yraath. They weren't going to make it any better.
Looking out the window, he saw the warships, freshly arrived from FTL. Fighter ships and platoons of soldiers were coming down to wreak havoc on the Sabud.
"My dear creatures," a voice said from inside a warship and transmitted throughout the area, "you happen to be in our way at the present time. You also happen to be in the vicinity---by that I mean "same galaxy"---that the War Machine is present in. We are looking to destroy the War Machine, and therefore you as well. Just thought I'd let you know before you die."
The voice chuckled as the onslaught began.
"Get the bots!" Lamat shouted. "Bots, tanks, cannons, everything you can muster! This is going to be the largest battle we've ever fought!"
From deep inside the Yraath warship, the High Emperor smiled. He didn't often leave Varana, but when he did, it was because he was very excited.
The screens around him showed every angle of the battle: views from the ships, views from the shoulders, radar, everything. Every aspect of the Yraath conquest covered in absolute detail. It was quite intelligent, really.
It also allowed the Emperor to notice a foreign fleet of ships heading towards the Yraath from behind the city.
He sneered, for he recognized the design. "Contact those ships," he barked to one of his servants. "I'd like to have a word."
Soon the face, if you could call it that, of a Dsarune Overlord appeared as a hologram in front of the Emperor's luxuriant chair.
"What are you doing here, desecrating this place with your filth," the High Emperor said. "Go away."
"We would appreciate it if you would cease firing," the Dsarune said.
"You're not allies of these pitiful little rats, are you?"
"Far from it. We're as indifferent to them as you are. If you cease firing, however, it allows our smaller ships to get closer to your warships. We have...aheh...deliveries for you."
The High Emperor smiled. "Flowers, perhaps? How touching." The rooms and hallways of the warships could withstand a small nuclear explosion, even though that wasn't very likely to happen.
"Your attempt at humor is duly noted. But I am proud to say that the Dsarune...aheh...will have the last laugh."
Its face curved in a smile, and from behind it, a large yellow abomination screeched and spread leathery wings. The feed cut to static.
For the first time ever in the history of the empire, the High Emperor's eyes widened.
The Benthos Monks cruised through deep space, towards the last known location of the War Machine.
"When we arrive, shall we strike immediately?"
"No. We must find patterns and weaknesses in its behavior. The War Machine is a deadly adversary and not to be meddled with. Everything must be perfect."
"Once we have done away with this batch of units, it will certainly send more. We just need to keep fighting them off."
"And then we find its Central Intelligence."
"And the universe won't need to worry any longer."
On Amyae, the alpha defense officer sent out a radio transmission. There were a few rumours floating around that a more powerful race was passing through, and that was just what they needed right now.
Seconds earlier he had received frantic calls from the Sabud. Not only had the War Machine obliterated Ninth Reinhart, another sapient species was attacking their home world. By the looks of it, the two were entirely unrelated, but that just made the problem more complicated. The alpha defense officer didn’t like complications.
He looked down at the telemote. Someone had found the transmission, and was replying.
Marshal Inova flicked a switch, and the holoscreen became active. Projected out from it was an Asper- not a race the Slavnye were familiar with, but one she recognised nonetheless.
“Your signal is being one of distress. What is being the emergency?”
“It’s a bad one. Can you just identify your race before we talk? I’d like to know what we’re getting into.” The alpha defense officer was more than a little confused about the Slavnye’s appearance and speech. You didn’t get sapients like that in Nephyen.
“Certainly. We are being Slavnye. I am being Marshal Inova of the GSU Vatrioshka of the Glorious Slavnye Forty-Fifth Attack Fleet, and official representative of the glorious Slavnye in this region.”
“That’s good enough for me. The War Machine is here, and we need help. They’ve already destroyed a planet belonging to a neighboring civilization, and we might be next in line. Can you help?”
The Marshal looked at him a little amusedly. “The War Machine’s target is being the Viperius Galaxy. They are just passing through the space that is being yours. You are being safe, for now.”
“Alright, but the War Machine isn’t our only problem! There’s another race nearby---” The alpha defense officer broke away for a moment to check the identity of the other fleet, and when he returned, he was visibly shaken. “The Yraath are here as well. I hope you’ve heard of them.”
“I am not having heard of this race. How advanced are they being? And how aggressive?”
“They’re as advanced as your kind, by the looks of it, and I hear that they were daring enough to try and attack the War Machine. This planet they’re marauding about on is just a side trip. All they want is to kill!”
“I am having two problems with what you are saying. The first is in terms of advancement.” Inova pointed generally around at her ship. “If they are having ships as big as those of glorious Slavnye, they are being more famous than that. I am not believing that they are having conquered multiple galaxies and standing up to War Machine for hundred years. Second is your presentation of them as unstoppable. Why do you believe they are being so invincible? Let them throw themselves at the War Machine. Let them kill themselves.”
“I’m not going to have them conquer another planet before they kill themselves. You don’t believe me, do you. See for yourself.” The alpha defense officer switched the image to a video feed coming directly from Reteos. Yraath battleships loomed in the sky while soldiers and dreadnoughts plowed through the opposing Sabud army. Buildings collapsed before their eyes and fires lit up behind the troops.
The Asper cut the image. “Do you see?”
The Marshal was unimpressed. “You are not having ever seen a War Machine or Aoarus invasion, then.”
Demetrus came up behind her, and turned to the screen. “There are being more important things to discuss than whose enemies are being stronger. The War Machine is coming. We must be assisting each other.”
The alpha defense officer smiled graciously at Demetrus. “Much obliged,” he said. “I don’t mean to rush you, but if you could get down here as quick as possible...”
“Unfortunately, we are not able to move from this position. We are having to fortify this planet and assist the Cephalids in building up their forces.” Demetrus shrugged sadly.
The smile left the Asper’s face. “Well, send half your ships, send a few, send whatever you can! We are in desperate need of a powerful ally! If we don’t get help soon, this whole galaxy will be turning into hell.”
There was a scuffling. A scratching. Snarls. Very close.
The High Emperor silently beckoned his servants over to investigate the noise, then turned back to the Dsarune Overlord. “Thesserex, hm? That’s new. When we destroy you all, we shall take advantage of them ourselves. Thanks for saving us the trouble.”
“Lie all you like, but you will never succeed,” the Overlord hissed. “Look outside, and gaze upon what you see.”
The High Emperor switched the hologram to a view of the outside. From the Dsarune fleet, several hundred Thesserex were swarming. Bearing down on the Yraath, the Sabud---everyone.
“We have more soldiers to spare. You can’t defeat us---many have tried, but none have managed it,” he said.
The Overlord grinned again. “The Yraath are easily defeated. Let me explain. If you remove the top tier, one single individual at the top of the keystone, the whole civilization collapses without it.”
“What do you imply?”
The metal walls of the room collapsed and with a screech a Thesserex burrowed into the High Emperor’s room, cutting his servants in two with a single swipe and landing in front of his chair. The High Emperor instinctively pulled out his ignis rifle and fired. Half a dozen flaming projectiles sheared straight through the creature’s head, killing it---barely, however.
“I note that you have avoided our little attempt at...aheh...assassination,” the Dsarune Overlord said. “But this will be the first of many, let me assure you. The Thesserex will multiply and the Yraath will finally fall.”
Lamat peered out the tiny window of the fortified bunker. That yellow swarm---Thesserex, by the looks of it---was bearing down upon all the footsoldiers, burrowing through the hulls of the fighter ships, killing everything.
The war bots were out, of course, but they were failing rather miserably. The fire from the two opposing fleets was mowing them down much too quickly. The two fleets weren’t allied, either---so it seemed to Lamat that Reteos was sitting under the middle of a galactic war at the moment.
A sudden buzzing of static came from across the room. Lamat looked over. A transmission.
The figure of a hideous thing appeared---pink fleshy face, beady blue eyes. Muscular arms and immense pincers.
Lamat mustered up the courage to speak. “Are you one of those races up there?” he asked.
“That is correct. We are the Dsarune,” the Overlord said.
“You must be the newer enemy...right?”
“The Yraath have pestered us for too long. We followed them here, and now we are exacting our revenge. We don’t care if other civilizations get in the way. They will be merely...aheh...casualties.”
“How have you harnessed the Thesserex?”
“It was a simple matter of training. They are like any other animal. They will never attack us now---only everyone else.”
The wall behind the Overlord was changing shape and shade---too subtle to be a mechanical distortion.
“That’s impossible. I haven’t seen one before today, but I’ve heard a lot. They do not discriminate when it comes to food and breeding grounds.”
“Nonsense. The Dsarune don’t like it when an inferior race starts to argue. Now, if you excuse us, we are off to find eery last Sabud on this planet, and destroy them.
The wall behind the Dsarune Overlord split open, and half a dozen Thesserex seized him and snapped his neck before he could react. The feed cut into a blaze of static.
Lamat ran up to the window. Firing from the ships had ceased. The Thesserex had killed everyone exposed on the ground. Some of them were eating the bodies, and some of them were burrowing into the fighter and war ships.
“What weaponry do our remaining bots have?” Lamat shouted to a nearby guard.
“They’re generalists. All sorts of high-power projectiles, beams, and flame armaments, my Master Akira.”
“Send them out.” Lamat wasn’t extremely worried about the Thesserex on the planet; it would be a bit difficult for the bots to catch them all, but it would be manageable in the long run. He could see the Dsarune and Yraath ships moving away now, taking the attached Thesserex with them. Their problem now...
- War Machine
- Viperius Galaxy System
- Viperius Galaxy
- Flesh Thief
- Seared One
- Kamodan Galaxy
- Kaedel's Hope
- Benthos Monk
- Dimensional Rift