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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

HistoryDude

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Why does the UNE trust Yukiko, exactly? She's switched sides, like, thrice.

Also, why do the Stormbreakers still remember sci-fi enough that its depictions of FTL are used as a base for real FTL in their minds? Has ADVENT been producing sci-fi or something? I mean, they were fighting a war...

So, Taiidani look like Orcs, and Hiigarans look like elves?

Can you imagine a world without the Hyperspace Network, a trip to Earth would take, like, 3 years... Is this supposed to be an ironic reference to After Everything?

Also, all Vanians have the unique psionic power to make people fall in love with them? And they got this fro a trip to the Shroud? Did they bond with the Instrument of Desire?

Speaking of the Shroud, here's my current list of where the Shroud-Beings are:
Whisperers in the Void and End of the Cycle - with the Beast
Composer of Strands - is the Deep One, causing trouble on Earth
Eater of Worlds - in the katana that's currently with Chihiro
Instrument of Desire - possibly bonded with all Vanians?

Yeah, Paradox showing up to help would be really helpful right about now...
 

Macavity116

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Why does the UNE trust Yukiko, exactly? She's switched sides, like, thrice.
Just like in real life politics, Yukiko got the diplomatic job because somebody owed her a favor. In this case, it was Secretary-General Laura Harper. Yukiko publicly supported Harper during the UNE leadership election and encouraged a few members of the Security Council to vote for the XCOM Commander. In return, Harper gave Yukiko a job in her administration. Not really a question of trust, you see. Just old-fashioned American style cronyism.


Also, why do the Stormbreakers still remember sci-fi enough that its depictions of FTL are used as a base for real FTL in their minds? Has ADVENT been producing sci-fi or something? I mean, they were fighting a war...
It was established all the way back in Chapter 3.2 of After Everything that some variation of the TV show Star Trek exists in the Stormbreaker Universe. Tsubaki and Soylent definitely got their misconceptions of FTL travel from that show. However, I intend that dialog to be a small Easter Egg: it's a reference to Version 1.0 of Stellaris, which allowed the player to chose their preferred method of FTL at the beginning of the game. (Warp Drive, Hyperlanes, or Wormhole Generators) I personally used Warp Drive all the time and was extremely upset when it was removed from the game.


So, Taiidani look like Orcs, and Hiigarans look like elves?
Yes. But this only applies to the Stormbreakers Universe. I came up with this story long before the release of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, so I'm outright ignoring the fact that Hiigarans were officially confirmed to be Humans in all but name by this newest entry in the Homeworld series.

The elf-like depiction of Hiigarans in this story is loosely inspired by this piece of concept art found in Homeworld: Cataclysm.



Can you imagine a world without the Hyperspace Network, a trip to Earth would take, like, 3 years... Is this supposed to be an ironic reference to After Everything?
Yeah, that's a pretty direct reference to After Everything, as well as some tragic foreshadowing for the rest of Act Three.


Also, all Vanians have the unique psionic power to make people fall in love with them? And they got this fro a trip to the Shroud? Did they bond with the Instrument of Desire?
Yes, the Vanian Commonwealth made a covenant with the Instrument of Desire sometime after the First Hyperspace War. (roughly 3,500 years ago) Before the current conflict, they were the only nation in the Galaxy to have completed the Psionic Ascension path in Stellaris. It is not currently known when they returned to the Shroud and seized the Whisperers in the Void, but their possession of two Shroud-Beings clearly made them a primary target of the Beast. The Vanian Commonwealth is all but wiped out by the time this story started, and the Vanian people scattered far and wide.

Speaking of the Shroud, here's my current list of where the Shroud-Beings are:
Whisperers in the Void and End of the Cycle - with the Beast
Composer of Strands - is the Deep One, causing trouble on Earth
Eater of Worlds - in the katana that's currently with Chihiro
Instrument of Desire - possibly bonded with all Vanians?
4 out of 5! The Instrument of Desire is no longer dispersed amongst all Vanians, owing to the destruction of their civilization. It is in the possession of one specific group. See Chapter 34: An Overdue Reckoning to learn more.
 
Chapter 30: Assault on Chapel Perilous

Macavity116

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Chapter Thirty
Assault on Chapel Perilous


Caption said:
The Mahuika engages a Beast fleet alongside a pair of Galactic Alliance warships. The enemy forces are augmented by a powerful Psionic entity.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The Psionic entity in the picture is supposed to be the End of the Cycle, but I had trouble forcing it to spawn with console commands, so I just stacked six Shroud Avatars on top of each other.
Thursday, January 10, 2036 - 9:30am
Galactic Council Headquarters, The Angel Moon, Hiigaran Empire



“Everyone, follow me!”

Amidst the panicking crowd of aliens, Kanti Divakar’s white feathers could be seen for dozens of yards! All six Stormbreakers (plus Sarah) linked arms so that we wouldn’t lose one another. At the head of the line, Soylent pulled us through the sea of bodies!

All around, diplomats, envoys, and ambassadors were making for the exits. Out the windows, I could see starships rising up and away from the Angel Moon, while in the distance, a bright point of light could be seen, hanging in the pale blue sky like a second sun.

“Where’s Yukiko!?” Kathleen shouted. “We can’t leave without her!”

“I can sense her!” Jericho replied. “She’s up ahead, around the corner!”

Yukiko and two frightened Taiidani were standing in front of an office doorway, looking lost and confused.

“Takahashi-san!” Tsubaki yelled before grabbing Yukiko by the arm and dragging her along behind us.

“Come on!” Kailani called back. “The Kakama is this way!”

Outside the building, we found ourselves on an elevated walkway that overlooked the Angel Moon Ecumenopolis. A whoosh of red and blue feathers caught our attention!

“Hurry!” Reepi Imvu called to us from the air. “Manako’s already spooling up the engines!”

Temirzhan, Adil, and the flightless Amadii bird called Arzhang were waiting for us at the landing pad.

“Move it, Humans!” Adil shouted. “Sometime today would be nice!”

We surged up the boarding ramp together, ignoring how the intense whining of the ship’s engines made our ears rattle and throb. Elsina was waiting for us on board. She swept Kailani up in a big furry hug and made a sound akin to purring.

“Don’t scare me like that!” Elsina said. “Is that it? Have we got everyone?”

Kanti and Reepi swooped through the open hatchway.

“We’re in!” Reepi shouted. “Close the hatch and tell Ranginui to take off!”

Kailani scrambled up one of the ladders to the bridge while Elsina closed and sealed the boarding hatch before she turned to us.

“Pick a handhold and don’t let go! This is gonna be a rough launch!”

Beneath our feet, the ship lurched violently! The Kakama rocketed into the sky and left the Angel Moon behind, joining a flock of spacecraft as they fled the scene. Kathleen, Soylent, Sarah, Hal, Tsubaki, Jericho, and I all grabbed at the handholds on the walls and ceiling, bracing ourselves as we were hit by intense G-forces!

“Feels like we’re really haulin’ ass!” Soylent shouted above the noise of the engines.

Making sure to keep a tight grip on anything solid, Yukiko started to work her way along the hallway towards the ladder Kailani had used to reach the bridge.

“Where the hell are you going!?” I shouted.

“I need to talk to Manako!” Yukiko answered. “We can’t leave without that haul of Aetherium and Protodermis! The Mahuika still has it!”

“She’s right!” Jericho added. “We need those resources for the Trinity!”

Fighting against the forces of acceleration and gravity that sought to pin me to the wall, I followed Yukiko up the ladder and onto the bridge of the Kakama. The frigate’s command deck was a very active zone right now. The entire bridge crew had strapped themselves into their seats and were working frantically at their stations.

“It looks like we left some of the crew behind during the evacuation.” An officer was saying. “We lost our Hyperspace technician, a few weapons operators, the quartermaster, a sensors operator, and the entire kitchen staff, sir.”

“It’s too late to go back for them.” Manako said. “Is the Mahuika still here?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Get ’em on the line, now!”

The Partogan officer spoke into his microphone.

“Kakama calling Mahuika, come in! Mahuika, please respond!”

The voice of Makara Ranginui was broken and filled with static, but still understandable.

Kakama! You made it out! Where are you?”

“Two hundred Kios above the Angel Moon!” Manako replied. “We’re fixing to make a run for it. What about you?”

“The Hiigaran Defense Fleet is outmatched! We’re moving to help them out.” Makara called back. “Brother, the enemy is coming from the Eye of Aarran! What happened!?”

Manako’s face lost all of its color. A mortified silence ran through the bridge.

“Miranda save us all!” Breathed a Levakian. “We really lost the Eye!?”

Yukiko and I looked at each other, then at Manako.

“What does that mean?” Yukiko asked. “How are we supposed to get home without the Eye!?”

“Still not sure about that.” Manako admitted, “But before we solve that question, we need to-”

Screeeeeee!

A painfully loud squawking noise filled the bridge and everybody covered their ears!

“What the hell was that!?” Manako shouted.

A moment later, Kailani gave us our answer. She put both hands to her head and let out a scream!

“The voices!” Kailani shrieked. “I can hear them again!”

I couldn’t tell was going on, but Jericho’s voice cut through the confusion!

“Don’t let it take over, Kailani! Fight it!”

Jericho reached the top of the ladder and conjured a swirling ball of purple light in her free hand! She ran across the bridge and pressed the swirling orb of light into Kailani’s head! Whatever agony Kailani was going through came to an immediate end. Gripping Jericho’s hand in her own, Kailani let out several shuddering breaths as she calmed down.

“Okay…” Kailani panted. “The voices are gone now.”

She was wrong.

A whole damn chorus of voices rang out! It didn’t come from any speaker system and nobody had opened their mouth. This was an unbidden telepathic noise that intruded on all of our minds. Hundreds of different male voices spoke in unison, all uttering the same message:

Kakama parts…” the discordant symphony said to us. “We want the Jericho self. Give us Jericho, or we will take Jericho with your parts.”

Everybody was caught off-guard, staring at one another in disbelief. Psionic energy flickered around Jericho, Manako, and every Vanian crewmember as they telepathically reached out in search of the intruder. I ended up being the first person to break the silence and respond, letting my anger get the best of me.

“I don’t know who you are!” I shouted to the ceiling, “But you aren’t going to take our friend without a fight!”

The voice spoke again, and I felt a very unwelcome Psionic probe in my mind while the chaotic assembly of voices assaulted my ears again:

“You already know us, Human self.” The voices declared. “The translation of our name in your language would be ‘Agamemnon.’ Do not follow that historic example, Trojan persona. Give us Jericho now, or else you will join us alongside her.”

Slowly, everyone looked around towards Jericho. Her eyes had gone really wide and an aura of Psionic energy seemed to ripple and shimmer around her. She was pointing at me with a shaking hand, open mouthed.

“That thing just absorbed everything you knew about Human history!” Jericho gasped. “It found out where your nickname came from and used your memory to name itself!”

“That is so many layers of disconcerting.” I commented, my arms covered in goosebumps.

“That’s how the Beast works.” Manako told us. “It absorbs our own knowledge, then uses it against us.”

Manako trailed off. He had just realized something.

“Xenonian News showed you to the whole Galaxy.” He pointed at Jericho. “That’s how it knows about you!”

She nodded.

“The Beast heard about Earth, about what I did to the Elders.” Jericho sounded like she’d been expecting this. Her Psionic aura flickered. “It wants me and my powers… I can feel its hunger. It’s almost like… like an obsession.”

“Right, let’s not stick around.” Manako turned his attention back the comms station. “Mahuika, we’re going to break contact and get our HVI out of here.”

“Understood!” Makara’s voice came back on the radio. “We’re going to help the Hiigarans and stall the Beast! You take the Chapel Perilous Slipgate and head for the Outer Limb. We’ll meet you at the Positive Control Point after you drop off the Humans!”


Caption said:
A squadron of Taiidani warships engages the Beast. Despite having been in service for over two hundred years by this point, the Qwaar-Jet class Heavy Cruiser (Center front of the image) is still one of the most dangerous warships in the Galaxy and should never be taken lightly.
Kailani raised an eyebrow:

“Wait, why Chapel Perilous? We promised to take the Humans straight back to their Homeworld!”

“Without the Eye of Aarran, you’ll have to go the long way.” Makara explained. “The old Progenitor Network is going to be crawling with infected ships! Use the old Hyperlanes and Slipgates to get back to Earth! It’ll take longer, but there’s less chance of getting caught.”

I wanted to ask how long this detour was going to take, but Manako was busy taking charge.

“Helm, bring us about! Lay in a course for the Chapel Perilous Slipgate at best possible speed!”

The Kakama broke formation with the other ships fleeing the Angel Moon and started moving towards the outskirts of the system.

“No! Go back!” Yukiko protested. “We need to take on those strategic resources from Partoga!”

A Vanian bridge officer shook his head.

“Not while Jericho is on board!” he said. “We cannot risk her life for a few crates of Aetherium!”

“He’s right.” Jericho put a hand on Yukiko’s shoulder. “We have to escape now. Sticking around will only make things worse!”

Yukiko looked like she wanted to argue, but at that moment, a Levakian manning the sensors manager yelled:

“I count two, no… correction! I count three hundred enemy strike craft coming our way from Chapel Perilous! Mixed force of Interceptors, Cloaked Fighters, Attack Bombers, Gunships, and Corvettes! Life signs on all ships are low or non-existent and their weapons are hot!”

“Son of Inari, those ships are infected!” Manako gasped. “The Beast must have gotten there first!”

“You punch through!” Makara called. “We’ll will keep the big ones off you as best we can! Mahuika out!”

He turned to Jericho, Yukiko, and I.

“You Humans know your way around a Laser cannon turret?”

“A gun is a gun.” I said. “Just point me towards the enemy!”

Turning around, I yelled down the ladder:

“Stormbreakers! Find yourselves a gun turret and get ready to fight!”

We broke up into three groups of two. Tsubaki and Kathleen went down to deck five and manned one of the ventral turrets. Hal and Soylent took one of the dorsal turrets on top of the ship, while Jericho and I crawled inside of the bow gun at the very front of the ship. The other three guns were manned by Triple Alliance crew. Everyone donned internal comms headsets so that we all stayed in contact with the bridge.

“Attention all hands!” Manako broadcasted his voice to the ship. “Sensors are showing a sizable force of Beast-infected strike craft guarding the Chapel Perilous Slipgate! Records show that gate will take us to the Outer Limb! Keep the infected off our tails and we’ll do the rest! Weapons free! Helm, engines ahead flank!”

Sitting on either side of the bow turret’s firing computer, Jericho and I cast one quick look at each other. She nodded at me and said:

“We’re gonna get through this. Trust me.”

The Kakama accelerated as hard as possible, burning towards the Slipgate!

“Chief of the Watch, rig the ship for battle!” Manako ordered.

“Eye sir!” replied Adil. “Sealing blast doors and polarizing armor now!”

At once, every bulkhead door slammed shut, sealing everybody into their respective compartments. An electromagnetic charge ran through the Kakama’s armor plating, and thick metal shutters slammed into place, covering up all of the windows. In our turret, Jericho and I picked up two joysticks in each hand. On the screens in front of us, a set of crosshairs appeared on the targeting overlay.

“Here they come!”

Moving like a swarm of locusts, a cloud of Beast-infected fighters descended upon the Kakama, guns blazing!


Caption said:
The LVK Kakama skirts the edge of the main battle in a bid to escape from the incoming Beast fleet. A flotilla of Partogan-Levakian warships can be seen on the right. The planet in the background is Hiigara.
“Smoke ‘em!” I shouted!

All six of the Kakama’s turrets came to life, hurling beams of fantastic violet light into the darkness around us! Hundreds of bright red points of light filled the screen in front of me! Twisting my joystick I aimed the crosshair and let out my first volley of laser cannon fire! An infected Interceptor narrowly escaped the onslaught and opened fire with a mass driver cannon! The frigate began to rumble as a continuous rain of lead began to thunder down on her hull!

“Plasma bombers!” Elsina reported. “Forty Kios, top port quadrant, dorsal side!”

“I see ‘em!” Soylent replied.

Purple jets sailed through the starfield and found their mark! A subverted Hiigaran bomber broke off its attack run, rattled but seemingly undamaged. A moment later, a Levakian gunship swooped across our bow, training its guns on the bridge! Jericho and I both fired laser cannon volleys at point blank range! The gunship banked hard and began to fly around our starboard flank before a second strike blew it off course again!

“That is a negative impact!” a Partogan gunner called to the bridge. “No effect on target!”

“Check your aim, gunners!” Manako ordered. “Focus your fire and hit the enemy center-mass!”

Jericho and I picked an incoming bomber and fired on it together, unleashing an intense volley of concentrated laser fire! Again, we hit the incoming hostile and knocked it off course, but did no physical damage.

“Commander!” I spoke into my radio headset. “Our weapons are having no effect! We’re not doing any damage!”

One by one, the confirmation calls came in. None of the gunners were having any luck. We could knock the enemy around all we wanted, but nobody was recording kills. After a few more desperate salvoes, Jericho panned her targeting camera around and got a good view of an enemy ship being hit by our weapons fire.

“Oh, you are kidding me!” Jericho shouted. “They’ve got shields! Psionic Shields!”

“WHAT!?”

She was right. Now that we knew to look out for the signs, there was no mistaking the blueish-purple flickers of light whenever our weapons made contact with the enemy. It was the same type of Psionic Shield I’d seen Chihiro use countless times in battle back home on Earth.

“That’s not possible!” Manako called back. “Shielding every one of their ships would take more energy than-”

He was cut off by a jarring impact! A group of subverted Corvettes were closing on our position, and one of them had just fired a torpedo into the Kakama’s starboard flank! Billowing clouds of gas escaping from the ship obscured the targeting cameras. Using the radar warning receiver, I found the enemy through the smoke and fired a laser bolt right into his bow! The energy blast hit an invisible screen in front of the foe and dissipated in a flash of purple light!

“Confirmed shield impact!” I shouted into the radio. “We’re not doing any damage, Commander!”

Finally, Manako changed tactics.

“Shunt all power to the engines!” He ordered. “Make for that Slipgate at best possible speed!”

Soaring away from the Angel Moon, we left a brewing fleet battle behind. A mixed force of Hiigaran, Taiidan, and Partogan warships were assembling to try and fend off the incoming Beast fleet. Like us, they were all having the same problem: The incoming Beast fleet was being protected by a powerful Psionic Shield. Amidst the incoming horde of subverted vessels, I could make out something else on my targeting computer, a swirling nebulous mass. The roiling cloud of Psionic energy launched bolts of lightning at any uninfected ship that drew near, and when it enveloped a Beast vessel, that ship enjoyed even greater protection from our side’s weapons.

Luckily, that strange Psionic entity was behind us. Unfortunately, there was one more problem lying between the Kakama and her escape:

“Sentinels!” Temirzhan raised the alarm! “Ten kios off the starboard bow, ventral side! They’re trying to box us in!”

Directly in front of our frigate, a constellation of tiny starships had blocked our path. My targeting computer identified these little ships as “Sentinels” a class of Microship developed by the Hiigarans. Microships were spacecraft that were so small and lightweight that they never showed up on conventional sensors. The Sentinels began to project beams of light to one another, forming a shimmering web of energy that hung in front of us. Once all of the beams had connected to a receiver, the Sentinels activated their trap!


Caption said:
The force field used by Sentinels is a technology developed by the Hiigarans during their first run-in with the Beast over 100 years ago. This tech would eventually become the forerunner to modern-day Defense Field Technologies, which themselves officially became outmoded after the Beast deployed Psionic Shields for the first time at the Assault on Chapel Perilous.
Created and held together by the Sentinel formation, a bright red two-dimensional force field was moving through space towards us! I had no plans to learn what would happen if it actually collided with us, so I took aim and started pummeling it with laser cannon fire! The force field blazed with intense light every time I scored a hit! Once the shimmering wall of red light was just fifty miles off our bow, the force field de-activated and revealed what was hidden behind it: a long, thin spacecraft with three gun barrels sticking out of its bow.

“VAYGR BATTLECRUISER!” Manako shouted! “Emergency evasive!”

The infected Battlecruiser fired its main weapon at us before hiding behind its forcefield again! Three bolts of bright red light screamed across the empty space between us, filling up my screen and drowning out all other contacts!

“Brace! Brace! Brace!” Manako hollered. “Here it comes!”

Whoosh! Whoosh! WHAM!

The first two bolts missed the Kakama entirely, sailing off into space for destinations unknown, but the third collided with the frigate’s underside and unleashed a cataclysm! At once, Jericho and I were blinded by a shower of sparks and flame! The whole ship lurched upwards and we both hit our heads on the ceiling! Jericho screamed as smoke started to fill the turret!

“Jericho! You alright!?”

“I’m still here! But I think the turret’s dead!”

Sitting up, I waved the smoke away from my face and tried to reactivate my targeting computer. She was right. Our gun turret had just bought the farm, the targeting computers reduced to twisted scrap metal embedded in the ceiling, while the actual gun assembly was mangled beyond recognition. I pressed the talk button on my headset and said:

“Bridge, bow gun here. We are disabled! I repeat, disabled!”

“CoW, gimme a damage report!” Manako shouted over the comm.

“Major hull damage on the ventral side!” said the voice of Adil. “Deck five is venting to space!”

Above their voices, I could still hear the continuous drumming and humming of mass driver rounds hitting the ship.

“Can we reach the Slipgate!?” Manako asked.

“We can still give you flank speed!”

“Then do it! All weapon systems, report in! Tell me who’s still shooting!”

“Green and Macintosh here!” Soylent’s voice cropped up. “All the topside turrets are still shooting. Bow cannon looks dead from here, and we haven’t heard anything from the ventral gunners!”

My blood went cold. Next to me, Jericho turned pale.

“Tsubaki!” I gasped

“Kathleen!” Jericho remembered.

We both unstrapped ourselves and moved to vacate our ruined turret. Unfortunately, the doorway leading into the rest of the ship had been blocked off by one of the emergency bulkheads.

“We don’t have time for this!” Jericho shouted.

She waved one arm and the bulkhead door immediately retracted, allowing us to move forward. The two of us darted along the corridor, heading towards the ladder to deck five. Each time we came upon a bulkhead door, Jericho forced it open with her Psionics before closing it behind us.

We quickly found the hatchway leading down to deck five, but it was blocked off by another blast door. Instinctively, Jericho waved her arm, attempting to force it open with Telekinesis.

Nothing happened.

“What!?”

Jericho waved her hand again, then made a pushing motion with both palms. The door trembled, but did not move aside. Jericho’s frustration quickly gave way to anger.

“What the hell is going on!?”

Around us, the ship shuddered violently, making the two of us unsteady on our feet. I ran forward and started trying to force the door open by hand.

“We don’t have time to find out!” I answered. “Just help me with this!”

“STAND BACK!”

I looked around at Jericho, and then threw myself to one side when I saw what was about to happen. Jericho took a deep breath and let out a loud warcry, charging forward and hitting the door with her shoulder as hard as possible! The metal blast door caved in and Jericho punched through the metal as though it were paper! Grabbing the fragmented steel in both hands, Jericho tore a gap the blast door big enough for us to pass through.

“Remind me to thank Vahlen for the Muton DNA when we get back.” Jericho panted.

Deck five was the bottom most layer of the ship, and it had been utterly wrecked. In the corridor below the ladder, portions of the ceiling and walls had collapsed, revealing other rooms. Smoke rose up from bundles of melted wire while electrical fires crackled around us.

“Tsubaki!” I shouted. “Walsh! Where are you!?”

No answer. Jericho turned her head from left to right, then pointed down a ruined hallway.

“Over there!”

The two of us ran as fast as we could to a sealed bulkhead door. A series of symbols I can only guess to be Partogan writing adorned a picture of one of the laser turrets. Jericho put both hands to the door and closed her eyes. The aura of Psionic power had returned, enveloping Jericho’s body in a kind of faint purple halo. I saw a confused look on her face.

“I’m not getting a clear picture, but they’re definitely in trouble.” Jericho said. “Blake, keep your hand over this button.”

Jericho pointed to a large red switch next to the door.

“When I say so, hit it as quick as you can, okay?”

“Roger.”

“On three… one… two…”

This time, Jericho’s telekinesis worked! She threw the doorway open! On the other side was a scene out of a space traveler’s nightmare.

A small caliber mass driver round had sailed right through the middle of the turret, opening up two narrow holes in opposing sides of the little chamber. With their precious last few seconds of breathable air, Tsubaki and Kathleen had frantically tried to seal the holes with anything available to them. Tsubaki had plugged the hole on her side of the room with strips of fabric torn from her Japan Self Defense Force uniform. It wasn’t a perfect seal, and air was still leaking out. Kathleen had found greater success, using a large flat pane of metal to cover the hole in the wall.

Both women were unconscious.

Using the power of her mind, Jericho seized both of our comrades and pulled them out of the turret! Tsubaki and Kathleen flew into the hallway and crashed to the floor, just as a violent force tore the turret in front of us to shreds!

“NOW! CLOSE THE DOOR!”

That one single moment felt like an eternity.

I looked up to see that the laser cannon turret was gone. A burst of explosive weapon fire had torn it off the ship completely! Now, there was only two and a half feet of mangled corridor between myself and the endless void of space… and about half a mile away was that infected Vaygr Battlecruiser! As I jammed the button to seal the blast door as hard as I could, I could feel the atmosphere rushing out of the corridor behind me, a cloud appeared in the empty space in front of me as the air I was breathing started to escape!

“Hold on!” Jericho screamed!

Jericho pointed one of her palms towards the breach while the emergency bulkhead door rapidly slid back into place! Right before the bulkhead door sealed, I could see three more crimson bolts sailing towards our position as the Battlecruiser opened fire! Then the bulkhead closed! Throughout the entire ship, I could hear dozens of people cheering as though some kind of miracle had just happened!

“Enemy fire deflected!” Manako’s voice sounded over the intercom. “We’re clear! Standby for Slipgate Jump!”

Battered and smoking, the Assault Frigate dove into the Slipgate and vanished.


 
Last edited:

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Well, that isn't good.

So, Blake's Trojan, therefore the Beast fathership is Agamemnon. Unfortunately for the Beast, Agamemnon was killed by his wife (who was cheating on him) after he won the Trojan War. Also, the Trojans gave both to the Romans, who ended up conquering Greece. Therefore, the allegory would end with Blake dead, yes, but his offspring killing the Beast. His offspring is Akira, whose entire life is dedicated to undoing the damage from the Second Hyperspace War... This makes Akira/Paradox the Romans. However, it makes Astynome (as the Beast's mothership, and, thus, Agamemnon's "wife") the ultimate killer of Agamemnon. Is this intentional? If so, does Agamemnon trust Astynome? Because if he does... beware her backstabbing. Also, is the Blake/Akira connection intentional?

Also, the End of the Cycle will probably betray the Beast, either when it's strong enough, or after that, when it has gained the Beast's trust?

So, Jericho's the King in this game of chess, and Agamemnon's the other King? Take one of them and you win? Because it seems the Triple Alliance/Galactic Alliance understands this, but the Beast doesn't.
 

Macavity116

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Well, that isn't good.
It's all downhill from here, dude.


So, Blake's Trojan, therefore the Beast fathership is Agamemnon. Unfortunately for the Beast, Agamemnon was killed by his wife (who was cheating on him) after he won the Trojan War. Also, the Trojans gave both to the Romans, who ended up conquering Greece. Therefore, the allegory would end with Blake dead, yes, but his offspring killing the Beast. His offspring is Akira, whose entire life is dedicated to undoing the damage from the Second Hyperspace War... This makes Akira/Paradox the Romans. However, it makes Astynome (as the Beast's mothership, and, thus, Agamemnon's "wife") the ultimate killer of Agamemnon. Is this intentional? If so, does Agamemnon trust Astynome? Because if he does... beware her backstabbing. Also, is the Blake/Akira connection intentional?
You picked up on that hint way faster than I was expecting! :eek: And you got so damn close to the right answer, too! :D

Agammenon is the heart and mind of the Beast, the true nerve center of its hive mind. However, the Mother (Astynome) has grown and developed to the point where it should be considered a separate consciousness, a completely different being from its partner. Just like how viruses mutate and branch off into different strains in the real world, Astynome has become a sub-strain of the Beast, one that does not have the benefit of having absorbed the End of the Cycle. Astynome does not have the powers or protections of the Shroud. So, if Jericho gets her hands on a Psionic Superweapon and she had to pick a target... Agamemnon or Astynome. It would be an easy choice.

The most important key piece of foreshadowing you should take away from the Trojan War reference is that Astynome is the weakest link. If the Mother finds itself on the wrong end of the Trinity and gets hit by the most powerful Psionic weapon in existence, the tides of war will shift into Jericho's favor so fast our heads will spin. How? You've gotta read the last few chapters to learn that one. ;)


Also, the End of the Cycle will probably betray the Beast, either when it's strong enough, or after that, when it has gained the Beast's trust?
Agamemnon has subverted and absorbed the Psionic energy and powers of billions of sentient beings by this point. Agamemnon is much more capable of enslaving Shroud-Beings than Manaaki ever hoped to be. The End of the Cycle's only options are to either break free or "go down with the ship."


So, Jericho's the King in this game of chess, and Agamemnon's the other King? Take one of them and you win? Because it seems the Triple Alliance/Galactic Alliance understands this, but the Beast doesn't.
The Triple Alliance understands Jericho's value perfectly and they are very much treating her like a Chess King. The Galactic Alliance got the message late. We'll see them again in Chapter 35: Our Angel of the Shining Hinterlands.

The chess game will continue when Mami Tamihana/Queen Kendra comes face to face with Jericho in Chapter 34: An Overdue Reckoning.
 

volksmarschall

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Gripping action. Wonderful stuff. Very beautiful pictures too with the lasers and all! :p ;)

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is live to fight another day.
 
Chapter 31: Weary Warriors

Macavity116

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Double-header today! A new Chapter of the Stormbreakers here on the forums and a new episode of Homeworld: Cataclysm over on Youtube!

Full video playlist here.

Most recent episode here. (We Will Not be Bound!)
======


Chapter Thirty-One
Weary Warriors


Caption said:
The skies of the Pacific Northwest light up as an unidentified object crashes through Earth's atmosphere during the early morning hours of February 14, 2035.
At first, Chihiro refused to believe it. There was absolutely no way in hell that Blake would have fallen victim to some kind of disaster! Jericho was with him! So was Tsubaki and Kathleen and Soylent and Hal! Team Takea had fought off the Chosen Warlock and laid waste to ADVENT’s forces just half a year ago!

She wouldn’t even dare to entertain the thought. No, Blake was alive, and he would be coming home soon! He had promised he would! Every half-hour, Chihiro fired up the Hyperwave Relay and tried to contact the Kakama again, ignoring the Partogans, Levakians, Assurians, Kelt, Amadii, and Vanians who were all trying and failing to do the same.

The Hyperwave network was offline.

Seemingly overnight, all Faster-Than-Light communications systems had gone down. Every Triple Alliance ship over Earth had lost contact with their bases and Homeworlds. Earth was suddenly adrift in a very silent Galaxy, with news trickling in aboard starships that arrived after the comms blackout began. It was one of those ships that delivered the painful news.

The Fathership of the Beast, a powerful entity the Partogans had code-named “Inari,” had assaulted the Eye of Aarran and successfully passed the infection onto it. Within minutes, the biomechanical virus had subverted the entire Hyperspace network. Every Progenitor Hyperspace Gate in the Galaxy was now under enemy control.

The loss of the network meant the disabling of every Hyperwave Relay as well. The FTL communications system had been dependent on the network to function. The Galaxy-wide blackout had forced all space-faring civilization to resort to slower-than-light methods of communication. Messenger ships carried news and information from one planet to the next, making maximum range Hyperspace jumps to avoid Beast interdiction. One such messenger ship brought confirmation of the Beast attack on Hiigara.

Thanks to the efforts of Makara Ranginui and her ship, the Mahuika, Hiigara held out for several days. Unfortunately, now that the Beast controlled the Eye of Aarran, the enemy could move its forces to any location in the cosmos almost instantaneously. A huge fleet of infected ships had descended upon Hiigara and the Angel Moon. Makara and her forces had waged a heroic fighting retreat, covering a great flotilla of ships as they evacuated from the system before making their own escape. Unfortunately, no one was able to confirm whether or not the Kakama and her passengers had gotten away. The last anyone had seen of the ship; it had been chased through a Slipgate by an infected Battlecruiser.

A week after Hiigara fell, Commander Bradford pulled Chihiro aside and confronted her with a painful truth: The Kakama had missed its due date to return to Earth, was out of contact with the Triple Alliance Navy, and was last seen being pursued by an enemy warship. Keeping all of this information in mind, the UN government had declared Blake, Jericho, Hal, Tsubaki, Soylent, and Kathleen to be “Missing and Presumed Dead.”

With the comfort of denial stripped away, Chihiro had flown into a rage. She smashed Bradford’s model of the original Skyranger, screamed in his face, and threw her Shadowkeeper pistol across the office. Bradford, in his infinite wisdom, ordered Chihiro to “take some time off to mourn.”

Cursing like a sailor, Chihiro screamed at the Commander again, calling him a “weasel and a coward” for assuming Blake was dead without any proof. Then she stormed out of the office, using the Demon Katana to smash Bradford’s trophy case on the way out.



Caption said:
The ruins of Betio, a small town on the Tarawa Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Photograph circa 2036.


Tuesday, February 12, 2036 - 10:45am
Ruins of Betio, Tarawa Atoll, Pacific Ocean


By the time XCOM and UN forces arrived on Tarawa, there was no one left to save.

The grim news of the massacre on Tarawa had cast a pall over most of the world, but no one more so than the group of XCOM soldiers and their allies who had to drive the enemy back into the sea.

Geist and his team of Templars took point on the assault. Rappelling into the ruined town from helicopter gunships, Violet and Duane tore through a horde of Gillmen and Tentaculats, using Psionics to pull down ruined buildings on top of their waterborne foes. Reptilian Tarsoths turned tail and fled from the approaching Templars, their protective scales useless against Shard Blades.

The Stormbreakers followed Geist and his team onto the island. Chihiro led the assault, fighting with a kind of fury and energy her compatriots had never seen before. On more than one occasion, Odette, Sophie, and Sophia had to grab Chihiro and restrain her before she charged headlong into an encounter that almost certainly would have gotten her killed. She slashed and hacked away at sea monsters with the Demon Katana with complete abandon, losing herself in the furor of the fight!

But out of all the Stormbreakers, Sophie Ackermann was the one most truly in her element. The close-quarters urban warfare of Tarawa was exactly the kind of scenario she had trained for and become a master of. Moving from one building to the next, the South African guerrilla never left herself out in the open for more than a few seconds. Taking advantage of the fact that the streets and alleyways of the city were extremely narrow and cramped, Sophie became an elusive target and an efficient hunter, gunning down far more sea monsters than any other member of the team. Sophia Kuznetsova followed behind her at a light jog, her awestruck expression hidden behind her headscarf.

Meanwhile, out in the Tarawa Lagoon, UN aircraft soared over calm waters at high speed! One of the gunships flew in a circle around a translucent obelisk that had emerged from the water a few miles off the coastline. Illuminating the Psionic Monolith with a laser designator, the gunship increased its altitude and her pilot called in the big guns.


Caption said:
The Interceptor-class Gunship Tigermoth, once a mainstay of the ADVENT military, is now a rapid response vehicle for AFUNE, although it is primarily operated by XCOM.
A saucer-shaped spacecraft, roughly thirty meters long and armed to the teeth, dove out of the clouds and sped towards the Psionic Monolith! Illuminated by weapons fire, an observer could see that the symbol of the ADVENT Coalition had been covered up by the blue and white flag of the United Nations of Earth, along with the ship’s new name:

UNS Tigermoth

At the controls of her new gunship, former Skyranger pilot Wendy Carter threw the vessel into an attack run! At her command, the gun crew activated their weapons and pummeled the Monolith with heavy Plasma Cannons before unleashing XCOM’s newest weapon!

Taking only few seconds to charge, the Particle Cannon fired a pulse of energy that rocketed across the sky at hypersonic speed before colliding with the Obelisk! The explosion was comparable to a low-yield nuclear bomb! Stretching hundreds of yards across, the fireball incinerated countless sea monsters and completely enveloped the Psionic Monolith! When the smoke cleared, the ocean was calm again, as though the Monolith had never existed at all.

Wendy pulled the Tigermoth up and away from the mushroom cloud, cheering along with the rest of the crew before turning back towards Tarawa.



When Mira Mihaka arrived on the island with the second wave of troops, the fight was already over. Sure, she wanted to get her hands dirty, just not in that particular way. As soon as the island was secure, science teams were turned loose. Working side by side for the first time, Doctor Vahlen and Doctor Tygan set up a prefab medical tent and used a large cart to wheel a heavy reptilian creature inside.

“I hear the troops are calling this one a ‘Triscene.’” Tygan told his predecessor. “It certainly does look like a monster from an Old World dinosaur movie.”

“Look at these scales!” Vahlen was extremely excited, “See how resistant they were to our plasma weapons? Just imagine the potential applications for our own armor development!”

Mira broke off from the two doctors and left them to their own devices. A little further up the ruined town, Mira could see the assembled Stormbreakers chastising Chihiro for her apparent lack of a “self-preservation instinct.” Yuktaka Yamamoto stood apart from the group, even further away than Odette Fournier, and he seemed to be angry about something else.

Mira decided to give the group some space. Like them, she was processing the loss of the Kakama and its passengers in her own way.

Losing Blake or Yukiko or Manako was one hell of a blow, sure, but losing Jericho was a disaster on many levels. There had never been a Cycle in which Jericho died before the War in Heaven, and now, with the Kakama missing, the possibility of Jericho’s premature death was growing more and more likely. Mira wanted to hold out hope that Jericho and the others had survived the fall of the Hyperspace Network, but with the Hyperwave Beacons no longer functional, there was no way to know for certain.

After the fall of the Eye and Hiigara, Mira had attended several meetings with Commander Bradford, Secretary-General Harper, and the other leaders of AFUNE. As a group, they agreed to move forward with a twofold plan:

Construction and development of the Trinity superweapon would proceed as though Jericho was dead. The control tower would be reconfigured to allow any Gifted person to operate it, although only four people were being seriously considered as candidates to replace Jericho: Geist, Duane, Mira, and Secretary-General Harper. However, AFUNE would declare Jericho and her team to be “Missing and Presumed Dead” and operate under the assumption that Jericho and the others were still alive, and that they would attempt to return to Earth. AFUNE warships would patrol the outer limits of Human space and make efforts to track down and retrieve Jericho whenever the opportunity arose. Some vessels had already penetrated the borders of the Hiigaran Empire, chasing down rumors they’d heard from Hiigaran merchant ships.

Plan ahead in case Jericho is really dead, act as if she’s coming back. Given the circumstances, this was the only way to proceed. And Mira got started right away.

As soon as she touched down on Tarawa, Mira began to pace the battlefield. One by one, she passed her hand above the bodies of dead sea monsters, searching for any residual Psionic energy left over from the Monolith or the Pacific Anomaly. She found herself wishing Manako Ranginui had not gone missing after the Fall of Hiigara. He had a unique Psionic power that would make this job so much easier.

Mira stopped when she found a group of UN soldiers posing with a dead sea monster while their comrades took a picture. The creature itself was some kind of crustacean that stood nearly five feet tall and had six limbs. When she approached, Mira felt a buzzing sensation in the forefront of her mind. She had found what she was looking for.

One of the UN soldiers, a Mexican, pointed at Mira and asked:

“Señorita Hybrid, you wanna photo with the Lobster-Man?”

“Certainly, why not?”

Standing alongside the UN soldiers, Mira posed with the dead Lobster Man, keeping her eyes on the camera and one hand pressed firmly to the dead creature’s back. With a slow, calming inhale, she extracted the creature’s last vestiges of Psionic energy and absorbed them. Thanking the troops for their time, Mira left and began to walk alone down the beach. She had a lot to think about.

Betio is a very, very small place. The landmass itself is barely 2,400 feet across at its widest point, and its highest point was only a few yards above sea level, meaning that no matter where Mira went, she was always able to see or hear the Pacific Ocean. By this point, there were also some two thousand XCOM and UN soldiers on the island, scouring it for any remaining sea monsters. Yet in the midst of all this, Mira did find a place that was relatively quiet where she could meditate.

Along the southern coastline, Mira found an abandoned bunker, left behind by the combatants of a great battle fought on this island nearly a century ago. Sitting down inside the crumbing ruin, Mira focused her thoughts inward, reflecting on what she had just drawn from the dead sea creature.

Focus… focus… focus…

One by one, Mira blocked out her physical senses. The crashing of the sea became dull and muted, the chilly breeze was forgotten, and the smell of salt was rendered irrelevant.

Like blurry afterimages, Mira saw brief flickers and snippets of the Lobster Man’s memories. Nearly all of the images were unintelligible and useless. Her attempt to replicate Manako’s power of Psychometry was crude and amateur at best, but this result was better than none at all.

Finally, Mira reached the oldest memory she’d been able to extract from the Lobster Man. It was not an image or a sound or a feeling. Mira wasn’t sure how to describe what she was experiencing. It was… a trace… a Psionic remnant of something that had once been present but was now gone.

Mira decided to follow the trail. Slowly reaching up, she pressed both hands to her chest. Over the past six months, Mira had grown accustomed to her new Avatar body. Built specifically for the Ethereals to use, the Avatar was the perfect specimen of Human health and strength, yet mixed with just enough Ethereal DNA to make it a suitable permanent host for the Elders. The fact that this body had been designed with Psionics in mind had made it extremely easy for Mira to use her own powers now. Activating her power of Astral Projection, Mira vacated her new body as easily as a person can shed their clothes.

The Avatar body slumped forward in the bunker and came to rest on its face. Its brain, heart, and lung activity were slowed to a rate that just barely sustained life, although a casual observer could easily believe the Avatar was dead. Above it, an invisible Psionic entity took a moment to get its bearings, and then darted away.

Freed from the confines of a physical body, Mira was able to soar through the air at incredible speed. She was limited only by her own reserves of Psionic energy, which, thanks to the Elders, was now quite immense. Following the Psionic trace to its source, Mira’s disembodied spirit pierced the outer layers of the Pacific Anomaly.

Inside of the anomaly was a Psionic hurricane! Powerful winds whipped the ocean up into a fury while lighting cracked and arced through the clouds unceasingly! Undersea volcanoes blasted their way above the waterline, creating new islands that were destroyed moments later by cataclysmic waves of seawater. Monstrous creatures battled and killed one another without pause, turning the raging seas below crimson red!

And then the downhill slope began as Mira reached the outer edge of the Maelstrom. A whirlpool nearly half a mile across had punched a hole in the stormy ocean, and the Psionic trace led straight to the bottom. The floor of the Pacific Ocean could be seen beneath the Maelstrom, and what Mira found there was more than alarming.

It was the Tethys Seamount, an underwater mountain that stood alone on the bottom of the Pacific, and embedded in its summit, crushed beneath unknowable water pressure… was the shattered remains of the Alien Fortress. Mira could make out the facsimile Human neighborhood where Blake had slain the Chosen Hunter. She could see the foundry where her own Avatar body had been made, and she could see the Crypt of the Elders, where the final battle for Earth had been waged.

As she approached, Mira passed over the body of the Angelis Avatar, which had come to rest partway down the mountain, no doubt blown here when the fortress imploded. In the Crypt itself, the remaining Elders had not moved from their final resting places. All of their sarcophagi had been crushed or imploded by the sea.

Yet, something seemed out of place…

Mira looked into the shattered chamber where Akira had spotted the misshapen alien creature just before the final battle had started. At the edges of her perception, Mira could sense a presence. Something was still here… still alive! A lopsided, vaguely humanoid shape rose up from the shattered remains of the central tower. A pair of white eyes loomed out of the darkness, aimed directly at her!

It was the Deep One. The entity at the center of this crisis.

Mira drew closer. She got the distinct sense that the Deep One was not going to attack her. Moreover, it seemed rather curious about her. The Deep One did not retreat from Mira’s approach, but it also did not withdraw from its hiding place in the shadows. Cautiously, Mira started to reach out with her mind… to make Psionic contact with the Deep One… but then…

Mira began to feel weak! Her strength was waning, and in a moment of genuine terror. Mira felt her consciousness waver. She had not felt these sensations in a very, very long time. Not since her battle with Manaaki Ranginui at Archer’s Canyon so very long ago…

Oh, no.

Mira recognized the signs and symptoms at once! She was minutes, if not seconds away from completely exhausting her powers! And if she lost her Gift while Astral Projecting… Mira didn’t want to think about it!

She broke contact with the Deep One and fled! Mira’s disembodied spirit rocketed out of the Maelstrom and across the Pacific in a desperate dash for her body! Keeping her mind as focused as possible, it took all of Mira’s willpower to fight the urge to fall unconscious, an urge that grew stronger every moment her powers waned!

Back to Tarawa! Back to Betio! Back into that Japanese bunker!

Mira’s soul re-occupied its body as quickly as possible! Gasping and hyperventilating, Mira rolled over and came to rest on her back. That had been way too close!

Sitting up and catching her breath, Mira’s relief turned to frustration. How the hell had she exhausted her powers!? She was in the body of an Avatar now! She was supposed to have ten-dozen lifetimes worth of energy stockpiled now! Angered to the point she saw red, Mira stepped out of the bunker, turned around, and instinctively tried to crush it with Telekinesis. She expected nothing to happen.

With a noise like a thunderclap, the bunker collapsed as though it had been hit by a thousand-pound bomb! Mira jumped backwards and yelped in fright! Pulverized concrete dust got caught in the wind and blew towards Mira. With a lazy flick of the wrist, she sent it out into the sea before looking down at her own hand in confusion.

“What the hell is going on?” she asked herself.

As far as she could tell, her Gift… her powers… had returned. How was that even possible? Mira had been exhausted before; she knew what it was like to permanently lose the Gift. Only the power and twisted science of the Elders had returned it to her. And tonight, out there in the Psionic Maelstrom, she had felt the torpor of Psionic exhaustion once again, only for the Gift to come back just as quickly. This wasn’t normal. Something strange was going on here.

Mira knew she now had another mystery to investigate. But she could take solace in the knowledge that she had gleaned one answer from this whole misadventure: Mira realized that she had encountered a Psionic presence like the Deep One before… and at long last, she knew the identity of the creature at the bottom of the Psionic Maelstrom.



Wednesday, February 13, 2036 – 7:45pm
XCOM Forward Operating Base, Easter Island, Pacific Ocean



“Alright, Mihaka. I want you to repeat everything you told me on the flight back from Tarawa.”

As soon as she had returned from Tarawa, Mira had convinced Commander Bradford to hold an emergency conference call with AFUNE leadership. In XCOM’s new Forward Operating Base on Easter Island, a conference room was quickly retrofitted into an updated incarnation of the Resistance Ring. Bradford, Geist, and Mira stood at one end of the table while holographic projectors in the ceiling populated the room with several other people.

At the head of the new Ring, a holographic double of Reclamation Director Jane Kelly had crossed her arms and was listening to the conversation with a thoughtful expression. Around her were the holographic representations of several members of both the Reclamation Agency and the Global Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A holographic group of Triple Alliance soldiers was also present: Two Partogans, an Amadii, and three Vanians.

Mira kept her eyes on Director Kelly as she spoke:

“Last month, in Nagasaki, I told Commander Bradford and Central Officer Smith that I suspected the Pacific Anomaly was connected to the Shroud, a plane of reality above Hyperspace.”

“Yes, I remember reading Commander Bradford’s briefing about that.” Director Kelly said. “He also said you were planning to conduct an investigation of your own. I assume you’re calling us because you’ve uncovered a lead, or some other useful piece of Intel?”

Mira nodded.

“I’m now very confident that the so-called ‘Deep One’ is a Shroud-Being called ‘The Composer of Strands.’ It seems to have latched itself onto a physical body, and it’s instinctively attacking anything that comes close.”

Mira’s answer provoked a reaction from the Triple Alliance soldiers. The three Vanians ruffled their feathers and looked nervously at one another. One of them, a blue and white peacock, raised a wing and spoke up.

“Excuse me.” said the Vanian. “Before my people lost our Homeworld to the Beast, we experimented with Psionic technologies that allowed us to penetrate and explore the Shroud. We might be able to share some additional Intel on the Composer of Strands.”

“Very good.” Commander Bradford said. “I think we should analyze this Intel as a group and then-”

At that moment, the door to the conference room slammed open and a tired looking messenger ran in!

“Sir!” The soldier panted. “We’re getting reports of a major disturbance on Lanai Island! Tygan and Vahlen are both picking up intense Psionic readings at the site!”

Bradford balled up his fists in frustration.

“Who do we have available to respond?”

“Geist and his Templars,” Replied the messenger. “Plus, the Stormbreakers and two squads of Levakian Marines. Everyone else is still debriefing from yesterday’s mission.”

Director Kelly turned her head and asked,

“I thought the Stormbreakers were engaging the enemy on Tarawa?”

“They just got back.” Bradford cursed. “I don’t think they’ve even gotten a chance to eat or sleep, but if we don’t have anyone else to send, then send’em.”

Bradford dismissed the messenger. Mira packed up her paperwork and started to move towards the door, but Commander Bradford stopped her.

“Sorry Mihaka, but you need to sit this one out.” Bradford told her. “You’ve been subpoenaed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. You can’t leave until you answer Kelly’s questions.”

Reluctantly, Mira sat down at the conference table and watched the holographic image of Director Kelly read aloud from a paper script:

“You have been summoned to appear before the Global Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the United Nations of Earth. This means you have been formally accused of war crimes, human rights violations, or other serious offences in relation to the War of 2035. In accordance with the 2036 Accords, you may be granted amnesty if you agree to face your accusers in court and confess all of your crimes before the Commission. At this time, GTRC officials will ask you some basic questions about your role in the 2035 War. You are permitted to refrain from answering any or all questions, you are also permitted to request legal counsel. The UN government will provide a defense attorney for you if you cannot acquire one on your own. Please bear in mind that anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Failure to answer this summons is a felony crime and will result in your arrest. Do you have any questions at this time?”

“No.” Mira groaned. “Let’s just get this over with.”



Caption said:
Two local Hawaiians witness the crash of the Vanian Science Ship Tren Krom on Lanai Island during the final year of the Second Hyperspace War.
Thursday, February 14, 2036 – 2:15am
UFO Crash Site, Lanai City, Lanai Island, Republic of Hawaii



“The drop site for this operation will be in Hawaii. The downed UFO is in a densely populated urban area. We’ll need to move in and secure the scene before people start panicking.”

As Central Officer Smith finished her briefing, the few remaining members of Stormbreaker Squad double-checked their weapons and armor one last time. They were flying to Hawaii in the belly of a Levakian Marine Frigate. Chihiro, Hal, Odette, and Yutaka all still had dirt and grime on their uniforms from Tarawa. Sophie and Sophia were trying to take a nap in their seats, while Matthew was drinking his seventh mug of coffee in an attempt to push his body even further past its limit. Nobody had slept in nearly 50 hours, and exhaustion was causing some nerves to be frayed. The tension wasn’t being helped by Yutaka’s extremely sour mood.

Yutaka Yamamoto had lost his rank.

Every time someone called Private Yamamoto by his new rank, he gave them an evil eye and a cold shoulder. To make matters worse, he still frequently tried to talk down to anyone he used to outrank. He was being especially vindictive towards Sophie Ackermann, Sophia Kuznetsova, and Isis Dekker, all of whom now outranked Yamamoto, despite the fact that he was old enough to be Sophie’s father. During the flight to Hawaii, Yamamoto had refused to listen to anything Lieutenant Dekker had to say, and his insubordination had earned nothing but ill-will from his squad-mates. When the ship arrived at Hawaii, Yutaka stood near the back of the deployment bay, keeping an even greater distance from his squad than Odette normally did.

Once the Levakian frigate hit the ground, Chihiro was the first one down the boarding ramp. Taking no chances, the carried her Shadowkeeper pistol in her right hand and Hachiman the Demon Katana in her left. Geist, Duane, and Violet followed the Stormbreakers onto the ground and the XCOM forces began to fan out.

Right away, Chihiro noticed just how heavy the two weapons were. She was so sleep-deprived that taking a few steps in any direction gave her the impulse to just tumble. Every step had to be taken with care, and the thudding impact of each footfall was the only thing keeping her eyes open right now.

If it were daytime, somebody would have commented on how the island’s strange beauty. Unlike other islands in the Hawaiian Republic, Lanai is mostly flat save for a few rocky hills near the center of the island. The vast majority of all forests on the island were cut down over a hundred years ago to make way for plantations. After two decades of alien occupation, the plantations had been abandoned and the fields left to nature. The result was a calm endless sea of knee-high shrubbery that went on from coast to coast, blanketing the entire island in a layer of lush green flora. But in the darkness of a Hawaiian winter night, there was only one thing anybody could see:

A column of smoke, nearly half a mile wide, rose from Lanai City, the one and only town on the whole island. At its base, Chihiro and her teammates could see the flickering lights of emergency vehicles, marking the spot where firefighters were desperately battling the inferno that threatened their homes.



Stormbreakers, Templars, and Triple Alliance soldiers swept into Lanai City and found a scene of chaos. An alien spacecraft had smashed into the Lanai High School complex, flattening over a dozen large buildings and starting a fire that threatened the rest of the town. Matthew told his soldiers to wait on the side of the road while he went to talk to the local fire chief.

While the Squad Leader ran off to get the firefighter’s attention, Chihiro and the rest of the Stormbreakers began to ignite bright red road flares and lay them along the road into town, directing friendly forces towards the emergency. Once the last XCOM soldiers were on the scene, Geist and his Templars appeared.

“What’s the situation?” Duane Gardner asked.

“Alien ship crashed into the town!” Chihiro quickly explained. “The fire’s our biggest problem right now!”

The Templars followed Chihiro back into the disaster zone, where several XCOM soldiers had been put to work assisting the firefighters. Odette pulled the safety pin on a handheld extinguisher and doused the front of a burning building with carbon dioxide. Sophia and Sophie had taken it upon themselves to guide local survivors away from the crash site, and a little further away, Chihiro could see that Yutaka and the local fire chief had climbed onto the roof of a nearby church to get a better view of the scene.

“Gardner.” Geist spoke to his subordinate. “I want you to bring our forces here and break them into small teams. We must prioritize the safe relocation of the locals, after that we’ll…”

Geist trailed off. He looked towards the firestorm enveloping the crash site. Duane and Violet both went pale.

Chihiro could sense it too! The atmosphere around her changed in an instant. There was a familiar crackle of Psionic energy in the air, along with something else… something infinitely worse.

“WE’RE IN DANGER!” Geist shouted! “Get everybody away from the crash site!”

“What the hell!” Violet screamed in a panic. “Why didn’t we sense that thing earlier!?”

Something huge rose up from the flames! Panicked screams rose from all around as firefighters and soldiers alike turned tail and fled! Sophie raised her shotgun at the monster emerging from the wrecked UFO and shouted:

“What is that thing!?”

It was some kind of abomination! Nearly seven feet tall, the… thing… stepped out of the burning remains of the local high school and into the street, held up on two spindly-looking legs. It had a body covered in tattered and moldy feathers and thick, viscous liquid dripped from its beak. The monster hunched over and let out a strangled yell!

“It’s a Vanian!” Duane gasped.

“No way!” Sophie countered. “It’s too big to be a Vanian!”

The creature reared up to its full height and started stalking towards Chihiro and the group of Templars! One, two, three sets of Shard Blades ignited as the Psionic warriors readied themselves for a fight! Chihiro raised her Shadowkeeper and shouted!

“STAY BACK!”

The alien monster ignored her, instead turning to one of the nearby fire trucks. The oversized mutated Vanian reached out and grabbed the truck’s engine block with its huge talons! Pulsing red splotches appeared on the front of the truck and started to spread outwards, enveloping the whole vehicle in a grotesque layering that looked just a little like lumpy, bloody flesh. A lone Hawaiian firefighter jumped out of the cab and fell to the pavement! He scratched and clawed at his skin while the same splotches started to appear on his body and equipment. The man let out a high-pitched scream and collapsed!

Chihiro felt her heart twist in fear!

“IT’S THE BEAST!!” She screamed. “THAT’S THE BEAST!”

Chihiro pulled the trigger and fired directly into the creature’s flank! All around her, other soldiers did the same! Hundreds of gauss rounds, laser bolts, and plasma beams struck the Beast-infected Vanian, causing it to stumble backwards! Psionic lances and bolts arced through the air and hit the Beast like lightning! Illuminated by the light of the fire, Chihiro and her comrades could finally see confirmation of their worst fears.

Cybernetic devices, pistons, sensors, hydraulic pumps, and other bits of technological implants were scattered all across the body of the infected Vanian, grafted right into its flesh, which under the light, betrayed one more horror! The Vanian’s flesh was patchy, misshapen, and oddly colored, almost as though multiple creatures had been fused together into a single being. Tethered to the now mostly-subverted truck, the shambling, zombie-like thing that had once been a firefighter bent down and picked up a fallen rifle from the ground!

Moving quickly, Chihiro raised the Shadowkeeper and took aim at the new threat! But she was so tired, so worn out, that she couldn’t aim down the sights as quickly as normal. In that extra half-second Chihiro spent aiming, the infected firefighter took aim at her and pulled the trigger!

A two-millimeter gauss round slammed into the chestplate of Chihiro’s body armor and pancaked! Little shards of shrapnel sprayed in all directions, hitting Chihiro in the face and arms! Screaming shrilly, she fell over backwards and hit the pavement, hard!

PAIN.

A wave of piercing, nerve-splitting pain rippled outwards from Chihiro’s abdomen and paralyzed her for just a moment. Chihiro reached up to check her armor with both hands. She’d been shot once in the chest, just above her heart! Luckily her armor had absorbed the blow and saved her life. Making a mental note to thank Chief Engineer Shen later, Chihiro scrambled back to her feet.

Despite being hit in the chest, Chihiro was now dealing with mind-numbing pain in her stomach and spine. The urge to vomit had returned and was more powerful than ever. She just felt terrible in every way. Fighting the urge to just give up and pass out, Chihiro holstered the Shadowkeeper and held the Demon Katana in front of her with both hands!

“Tachibana! With us!” Geist motioned for Chihiro to join him and the Templars.

Looking around, Chihiro saw that three more Templars had arrived on the scene, bringing their total number up to six. All of them wore Celestial Gauntlets that crackled and hummed with Psionic energy! Chihiro tried to run over to their position, but as soon as she started moving, another powerful wave of searing pain wracked her lower body! Rooted to the spot, Chihiro had no choice but to fight from where she was currently standing.

“On my signal, unleash a Soulstorm!” Geist shouted. “We must overwhelm it!”

Next to the infected Vanian, the Beast was starting to take control of the fire truck and its fallen driver. A fleshy mass of mycelia now connected the fallen body to the vehicle’s side! The engine revved loudly and the lights began to flash! On the roof of the nearby church, Yutaka knelt down and took aim with an RPG launcher. There was a quick flash and a loud crack as the projectile struck the vehicle! Flames erupted from the underside of the truck and began to consume both it and the subverted driver! The infected Vanian squawked loudly and turned to attack Yutaka!

“NOW!” Geist shouted! “Bring it down!”

Chihiro aimed Hachiman directly at the foe! Around her, the Templars pointed their palms at the target! A moment before she attacked, Hachiman declared:

“You will not be devoured this day! Strike hard and strike true!”

Seven swirling pillars of brilliant blue and purple Soulfire arced across the town and lit up the area as though it was daytime! Doused in a storm of supernatural fire, the Beast shrieked and panicked, trying to escape, it spread its wings as though it was going to take flight!

“Hold it down!” Geist ordered. “Don’t let it get away!”

Duane and Violet both broke off their attacks and used Telekinesis to seize hold of the Vanian’s wings!

“Pull!” Violet screamed!

Duane and Violet continued to pull on the Vanian with their minds, holding it to the ground while Chihiro, Geist, and the other Templars continued to rain Soulfire down on it!

Then, as though someone had thrown a switch, all of the Soulfire went out!

Panicked screams went up all around the battlefield! Violet and Duane both shook their Celestial Gauntlets, trying to reactivate them! Geist grabbed a Psionic Amplifier from his comrade and held it in both hands, but the device remained inert and idle. The Templars, suddenly deprived of their powers, began to scatter!

The Beast roared and unleashed a Telekinetic blast upon the suddenly powerless Templars! The invisible force hit Geist and his warriors, blowing them backwards like leaves caught in a high wind! Behind them, a house collapsed into rubble! Chihiro got hit as well! Thinking quickly, she plunged the point of the Katana into the crumbling street surface and held on for dear life! Another wave of pain rolled up her torso and spine, causing Chihiro to clench the handle of her sword even more tightly!

“NO!” Hachiman protested! “You will share neither their weakness nor defeat! Attack! Fight! Resist!”

The sword handle suddenly became hot in Chihiro’s hands, hot in a way she recognized! It was the same type of heat produced when someone discharged unused Psionic energy!

Of course! The Demon still had its own powers!

There was nothing else to do. Chihiro could only assume that her own powers had disappeared along with those of the Templars. She would have to put her trust entirely with the sword! Standing upright to face the Beast, Chihiro saw that the creature had turned away from its attack on the Templars to face her in return. The monster started stalking across the shattered street towards Chihiro!

“Allow me to feed on a piece of you!” Hachiman demanded. “In return, you shall taste victory!”

Talking loudly enough to be heard above the chaos, Chihiro replied:

“Fine! Just this once!”

Clutching the sword in both hands, Chihiro aimed the tip of the blade at the oncoming Beast! One final massive wave of pain erupted in Chihiro’s belly, this time so intense that stars swam in front of her vision! Blinking away the dizzying points of light, Chihiro felt a whole new kind of power building up inside of her! Focusing with all of her mind and soul, Chihiro poured her last best hope into one final attack!

The Demon Sword began to scream! It was the sound of genuine nightmares, shattering windows, echoing off the clouds, and striking terror into all who heard it! The Beast was hit by the sonic attack and its own shrieks were drowned out by the horrific noises coming from Chihiro’s weapon!

Hachiman relished the Psionic violence! Enthralled by the onslaught, the Sword Demon amplified Chihiro’s powers! Feeling energized as though she’d just woke up from a power nap, Chihiro funneled as much of her energy into the assault as possible! Her heart thundered like it never had before and her blood ran hot! The sonic bombardment rattled her ears and made every bone in her body vibrate! The pavement cracked as though the whole world was about to break apart!

The intensity of the sonic attack caused one last wave of unspeakable, sanity-sapping pain to twist Chihiro’s abdomen! She fell to her knees and screamed along with her sword to the darkened sky! The Beast itself was now pinned in a continuous bombardment! Volley after volley of supernatural noise, amplified and focused by Psionic energy, struck the creature and kept it held fast to the ground! Her enemy trapped, Chihiro and Hachiman delivered the final blow!

A cone of supernatural flames erupted from the Demon Katana! At first it was the usual purple color of Soulfire, but it quickly turned as white as the midday sun! Chihiro had to squint to avoid blinding herself as the amplified attack rocketed downrange towards the enemy! Buildings and trees around her spontaneously combusted, enveloping the entire battlefield in a raging inferno! As soon as Chihiro’s white flames made contact, the infected Vanian let out one last bloodcurdling scream before it was torn to shreds by her Demonic Soulfire attack!

Psionic energy exploded outward from the Beast in all directions! An orb of blue light shot out of the Beast's body, raced through the air and connected with Violet, who took the full brunt of the blast and keeled over backwards, crashing to the pavement and laying still! Geist managed to raise a Psionic Shield around himself and his allies just in time, and the shockwave bounced harmlessly up into the sky. Chihiro also took a full-on hit and felt one more spasm of intense pain run up the length of her spine! Burning chunks of Beast materiel rained down on Lanai, transforming the town into a truly apocalyptic landscape!

But finally, the threat seemed to have passed. The Beast-infected Vanian was dead, blasted apart into hundreds of smaller pieces. As she lowered her sword, Chihiro let out a deep exhale, looked around at the wreckage and said:

“Holy shit, did I do that!?”

The Templars let out loud cheers and clapped. Duane flashed Chihiro the thumbs-up, then ran to check up on Violet. Geist, however, wasn’t celebrating. He was gazing at the sword hanging loosely in Chihiro’s left hand with a thoughtful expression.

“Our powers returned as quickly as they departed.” Geist said. “And as for that weapon… and that creature… clearly I will need to meditate on all of this.”

Chihiro nodded and started to return Hachiman to her belt.

“A glorious victory!” The Demon within the blade declared. “The enemy fled from you after such a magnificent display of power! Truly you have no equal!”

“Fled?” Chihiro repeated aloud, “I’m pretty sure I ki… kill… k-k-k… ah-AAAAAUUUUUGGGHHH!”

PAIN.

Pain unlike anything Chihiro had ever experienced in her entire life pierced her stomach and rolled throughout her torso! It was worse than the day she’d been shot in the neck! Worse than the water and knife torture the Soviets had put her through in the last war! It felt as though Chihiro was going to split in half down the middle! The pain was so intense that she didn’t notice the ground rising up to meet her! She was blind, deaf, and in so much agony that her screams only stopped because she ran out of air! Curled up on this dirty street, Chihiro was absolutely certain that this was it! This was how she was going to die, never knowing how or why her demise had come!

Confused images swam in front of her eyes, Noises blended into one another, Psionic energy flitted about in her mind, but none of those sensations made sense. There was only the pain, the agony… the nightmare….



Thursday, February 14, 2036 – 5:45pm
Lanai Community Hospital, Lanai Island, Republic of Hawaii



Because the local hospital was so small, (there were only 24 beds in the whole building) the members of Stormbreaker Squad were forced to wait outside in the parking lot while Chihiro was taken inside for treatment. Sophia Kuznetsova had somehow managed to find fresh fruits somewhere in town and the team was having a small dinner while they waited. Matthew and Odette leaned against a parked car and watched the hospital entrance nervously while Sophie Ackermann had lain down on the pavement to sleep in the winter sunlight. Isis Dekker and Yutaka Yamamoto were both too nervous to stay still. They were each doing their best to keep moving. Isis was pacing back and forth in front of the entrance while Yutaka passed the time by asking any passing soldiers for details on the crashed UFO.

By midday, the situation in town had been brought under control, and some information about the crashed ship was starting to get around. A group of Levakian Marines brought the Stormbreakers up to speed: For unknown reasons, a badly damaged science ship had come out of Hyperspace so close to Earth that it fell into the atmosphere almost immediately. The identity of the vessel had caused a stir with local Triple Alliance forces. Apparently, the crashed science ship had once been known by the name “Tren Krom” and it had not been seen in a very, very long time.

Not that the Stormbreakers cared about this right now. Matthew and Odette had both seen Chihiro go down during the previous night’s events, and it had disturbed them to no end. Isis was also distraught. When she had ordered her Gremlin Drone to perform medical protocols, it failed to find anything physically wrong with Chihiro. This set off no small number of alarms.

Sometime before six o’clock in the evening, the hospital door swung open and Doctors Tygan and Vahlen emerged. All of the Stormbreakers quickly converged on them, and were equally horrified at the sight of large bloodstains on their medical scrubs. Both doctors raised their hands and implored the soldiers to calm down.

“She’s alive, und she will recover.” Vahlen said right away.

All six soldiers let out deep sighs of relief.

“Before we allow you to go inside and see your friend,” Tygan said in a warning voice. “You must be made aware of the fact that she has just gone through an incredibly traumatic experience. I urge you to speak in calm voices and do nothing to alarm her.”

The Stormbreakers followed the two doctors into the hospital. In one room, Sophie spotted Geist, Duane, and the other Templars gathered around a bed where Violet was still out cold following her encounter with the Beast last night.

“Doctors,” Isis asked. “What exactly happened to Sergeant Tachibana? It just seemed to hit her out of nowhere!”

“Before I answer that,” Vahlen said, “It should be made perfectly clear that none of you are to blame for what had transpired. Tachibana was suffering from a nearly undetectable phenomenon that affects many women. About one in five-hundred, I believe. I cannot repeat this enough: there was no way any of you could have known because she herself did not know.”

“An undetectable condition?” Matthew gasped. “Is it serious?”

“Sometimes it can be.” Tygan admitted. “We won’t know the full impact for several more hours; but for the time being, it is clear that death is no longer a possibility, and that a... recovery to some degree... is now the most likely outcome. Here we are.”

The group had stopped outside of a closed door at the end of the hallway. It was labelled with a simple placard that said:


Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Everybody froze.

“No way!” Isis breathed.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Sophia gasped.

“Bullshit!” Matthew recoiled.

“I’ll be damned.” Sophie muttered.

“We should have seen the signs.” Yutaka shook his head.

Odette was lost for words.

“There was a one in five-hundred chance her pregnancy would go undetected.” Tygan said. “The chances of it having a happy ending were even less favorable, yet Sergeant Tachibana has beaten the odds today.”

In that short silent moment, Sophie, Sophia, Matthew, Isis, Yutaka, and Odette could hear a voice on the other side of the doorway. When Isis recognized it, she paused.

“Hey… wait a minute… Is she singing!?”

All six Stormbreakers held their breath for a moment and listened. Sure enough, they could hear Chihiro’s voice on the other side of the doorway. She was singing a slow melody in a calming legato tone of voice. Sophia gave Yutaka a shove and whispered:

“Well, come on… what’s she saying?”

While Chihiro continued singing her melody, Yutaka put his ear close to the door and translated her Japanese tune into English:

“I’ll water you, sunflower, let your tired eyes reflect the sun. Raise your hands, sunflower, show me everything in the light that shines down. Don’t look down, sunflower, face the sun and open up your heart.”

Even behind the headscarf that obscured her features, it was possible to make out a look of sorrow on Sophia’s face.

“We all missed it.” Sophia murmured. “She was sick and emotional before this! How did we all miss it!?”

“Her husband died a month ago.” Matthew answered. “I thought that was why… Didn’t any of you ladies see anything?”

Sophie Ackermann didn’t look him in the eye. Sophie and Odette both gave her a sad look.

“No. She didn’t really hang out with us.” Sophie admitted. “She a lot closer with the people who’ve been on the team since Hiroshima. Tsubaki, Holly, Hal, Soylent, and Blake, obviously.”

Doctor Vahlen pushed the NICU door open.

“In their absence…” Vahlen said, “I hope you can be the friends she needs right now. Why not go in and introduce yourselves?”

Isis, Sophie, Matthew, Odette, Sophia, and Yutaka all crossed the threshold and found Chihiro Tachibana sitting upright in a wheelchair. She had parked her chair next to an elevated table where a vast array of advanced medical equipment and technology was assembled around a very small bed.

Chihiro (who looked completely worn-out) was softly singing to a newborn baby, whose faint heartbeat could be heard on a nearby cardio-respiratory monitor. A semitransparent tube ran out of the baby’s mouth and was attached to some kind of breathing apparatus, and there were intravenous tubes attached to both of her arms. Two local doctors were monitoring the equipment with unfathomable expressions.

Chihiro sniffled and looked around at her comrades.

“Hey guys.” She said softly. “Have you met Blake’s little girl yet?”


 
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HistoryDude

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Chihiro was pregnant?

Where are the Kakama and its crew right now? We know that they aren't dead...

Also, will we get to see Mira's confession of her war crimes?
 

Macavity116

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Chihiro was pregnant?
Yes. The phenomenon is called a "Cryptic Pregnancy" and Chihiro's experience with one is based on a very real incident involving a female British soldier in Afghanistan a few years ago. The medics in my National Guard unit depict the tale as some kind of horror story.

Basically, every mention of Chihiro feeling sick or unwell during Chapters 27 and 28 was a warning sign that something was up. Thanks to the stresses of combat, the newest Robinson entered the world over two months premature. (Hence the mention of "advanced medical equipment")

Where are the Kakama and its crew right now? We know that they aren't dead...
Hiding in the Great Wastelands, a few dozen lightyears from Asalele. They're trying to shake off the Beast warships that followed them into the Chapel Perilous slipgate.

Also, will we get to see Mira's confession of her war crimes?
I think so. It'll have to wait until later in Act Three, however. Mira will make her next appearance in Chapter 33: Everything is Different Now, when she has some important business to take care of.
 
Chapter 32: Armed for Burial

Macavity116

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15 Chapters left until the story is over! :) We're really almost there!

As we get closer to the final act of The Stormbreakers, I'm becoming more and more aware of the fact that once this tale is complete, the Stormbreaker Trilogy is over. I've got a long list of things I want to do with my characters before the final curtain, such as:
  • a no-holds-barred fight between Akira and Jericho
  • a space battle where Partogan and Human warships fight side by side
  • Allow the Stormbreakers to analyze their (failed) efforts from other Cycles.
  • a face-to-face meeting between all four of the central protagonists: Mira Mihaka, Mami Tamihana, Blake Robinson, and Jericho.
But the thing I wanted to do more than anything else is to revisit some locations from previous stories. Over the next two or three chapters, you can expect to see our protagonists return to areas from both After Everything and Faith in Chaos. During today's chapter, we'll briefly return to a location last seen in Chapter 5.5 of Faith in Chaos.


Chapter Thirty-Two
Armed for Burial


Caption said:
An abandoned space station in the Great Wastelands, a large region of space located between the Outer Rim and Galactic Core. The Great Wastelands are extremely rich in natural resources, often located in dense regional pockets such as the Gardens of Kadesh, Diamond Shoals, the Sea of Lost Souls, and the Ketu Supernova; or on resource-rich planets like Vania, Paku Nui, Vaopolu, Aoraki, and Partoga.
It had been nearly two months since the Fall of Hiigara and the loss of the Hyperspace Network. In that time, we were slowly but inexorably making our way back to Earth. It was a journey undertaken in isolation. Without the Hyperwave Relay Network, the only communication we had with the outside world was whenever we crossed paths with a friendly ship, and that was becoming less and less common these days. And since the Progenitor Gates all now lay in enemy hands, we had to take the long way home.

Scattered throughout the Galaxy are hundreds of Slipgates and non-Progenitor Gateways, most of which were left behind by the Vaygr Crusades. These lesser-known avenues would be our route back to Earth.

The Galaxy itself had become a far more dangerous place since January. The Galactic Council had been scattered to the winds by the sudden Beast attack on Hiigara, and with all FTL communications down, the war had taken a sharp and chaotic turn. All across the cosmos, the Beast had gone on the offensive. Augmented by Psionic entities the likes of which no one had ever seen before, the enemy was burning through the allied nation’s defenses and intel like a wildfire.

As for me and my team, we were no longer passengers on the Kakama, but fully-fledged crew members. In the face of the current crisis, everyone was expected to pull double duty. We all had tasks and jobs to perform each day, and the Stormbreakers made sure to pull their weight. The crew of the ship were more than happy for our assistance. They’d lost many of their own and needed bodies to fill the gaps.

Soylent found himself right at home in the galley, where the entire kitchen staff had been lost. He groaned and complained about the loss of his old still on the Avenger, and once in a while, I found him secretly building a new one in his free time.

“What’s the use of bein’ trapped in space with no beer, mate?” Soylent justified himself.

Hal joined the security team, under the leadership of Elsina. The ship’s security forces were comprised mainly of Levakians and Vanians, and it took him nearly a whole month to earn their trust to the point where he was allowed to carry a firearm. Tsubaki and Kathleen had become sensor managers. It was now their job to use the Kakama’s radiating sensors to keep a lookout for incoming infected ships.

Jericho spent most of her time in training. After the fight at Chapel Perilous, she started experimenting with her powers again, in much the same way she did as a little kid, if I remembered Isis Dekker’s explanation right. She told us all that she had only recently learned how to deflect the kind of energy weapons used against us at Hiigara.

“I was supposed to do all this advanced Psionic training with Mira and the Ranginui twins.” Jericho explained. “Stuff I would need to learn to do in order to use the Trinity.”

Manako was too busy commanding the ship and finding a way back to Earth to train Jericho, so Reepi and Kanti had taken over those duties. For the past few weeks, the three of them had taken over the cargo bay for Psionics lessons. Eight to nine hours a day, we could all feel intense energy and heat radiating out of the cargo bay while Jericho and the two Vanians practiced newer and more incredible Psionic techniques. The even managed to reverse-engineer the strange shields the Beast had employed against us at Hiigara.

In the event of a real emergency, Jericho could now envelop the entire ship in a Psionic shield, protecting us from harm for just a few crucial seconds. So far we hadn’t found ourselves in that kind of situation, but it was quite reassuring to know we had the option.

As for Yukiko, Sarah, and I? We had the most fascinating job of all…

After escaping from our pursuers at Hiigara, the Kakama had been severely damaged, with most of her laser turrets being taken offline. Our weapon systems were so badly impaired that if we got into another fight, we surely would have been destroyed. Commander Ranginui had asked everybody, Stormbreakers included, for suggestions on how to evade the enemy since fighting was out of the question.

After thinking on it for some time, I remembered the stories Chihiro had told about how she had been part of the crew of a submarine hunter during World War Three back on Earth. I remembered how she described the Soviet submarines as “ruthless silent hunters.” Keeping her description in mind, I recommended we implement some kind of camouflage system that would allow us to hide in plain sight. Adil and Temirzhan both backed me up, saying:

“The Hiigarans and Turanic Raiders have been experimenting with holographic emitters and cloaking devices for over a century. We could easily make use of the technology ourselves.”

So it was decided. Kailani set a course for the Sojent-Ra system, a region of space where over a century ago, the Hiigarans had fought a great battle against the original incarnation of the Beast. We found a disabled Hiigaran Cloaked Fighter in the wreckage and took it aboard, where our chief engineer, the little reptilian Kelt named Dolim, set to work adapting it’s technology for the Kakama’s frigate chassis.

Dolim, Temirzhan, Adil, Yukiko, Sarah, and I became the primary operators and maintainers of the ship’s new Cloaking Sail. The device required a lot of power to operate, so whenever we were cloaked, the ship’s maximum speed was halved, armor was depolarized, and all weapons were disabled. But considering that we were trying to avoid a fight, this was deemed an acceptable trade-off.

To facilitate the Kakama’s new “flight over fight” strategy, the weapons were overhauled as well. Of the three remaining laser turrets, two were dismantled and the scrap parts reused elsewhere. Stopping off in another debris field, (this one much fresher, sadly) we replaced our damaged or lost laser weapons with a pair of Hiigaran torpedo launchers. The Torpedo Frigate was a mainstay of the Hiigaran Armada, so salvaging unused torpedoes from battlefields gave us plenty of spare ammunition to work with. Using a torpedo launcher also meant that the Kakama would only have to de-cloak for a matter of seconds if the situation truly called for weapons.

Patched up, refitted, and partially rebuilt by her crew in-flight over the past two months, some of us liked to joke about how this was no longer the same starship that had departed Earth back in January, and that a name change might be in order.

Running fast, hiding as necessary, and fighting when given no other choice, we darted from one Slipgate to the next, seeking out the old Vaygr Gates and rocketing back towards Earth in leaps and bounds. In early March, Commander Ranginui took a calculated risk by flying us through a previously unexplored Slipgate located near the border of the Hiigaran Empire and Taiidan Republic. We were in for quite a surprise on the other side.



Wednesday, March 8, 2036 - 4:15am
Ketu Stellar Graveyard, The Great Wastelands, Levakian Confederation


“Clear of Slipgate! All systems running nominally.” Elsina reported.

“Good. Sensors, anything out there?” Manako asked.

“No sir,” Tsubaki answered. “We’re alone.”

Manako turned around and walked to the starboard side of the dais, pointing to a far corner of the bridge where Yukiko, Sarah, Dolim, Temirzhan, Adil, and I were working.

“Deploy the Cloaking Sail and rig the ship for silent running.” He ordered.

“Aye, sir.” Adil responded. “We’re going dark now.”

An invisible field of energy enveloped the Kakama, bending and refracting a wide spectrum of light and radio waves. In mere seconds, our ship had vanished from all sensors and become invisible to the naked eye. On the bridge, Elsina reported our position.

“Starcharts say we’re in the Ketu Supernova, right on the northern border of the Core Sector.”

“Core Sector?” I repeated. “You mean we’re near the center of the Galaxy?”

“No, that’s not it.” Dolim replied. Since he was such a small reptile, Dolim had a squeaky voice that I still hadn’t gotten used to. “She’s talking about the Partogan Core Sector, the central hub of the Commonwealth.”

I craned my neck around to look out the main window at the front of the bridge. After flying around the Galaxy for a couple of months, looking for a way home, I’d gotten used to the view of the Galactic Disk. I could point out various stellar landmarks now, like the Gardens of Kadesh, the Shining Hinterlands, or the Karos and Abbassid Graveyards. Dolim pointed towards a dull red star just beyond the Sea of Lost Souls, a patch of space with very few stars.

“That’s the Trecta system.” He said. “The Homeworld of the Partogans and Levakians, capitol of the Commonwealth. Central hub of the Triple Alliance. For nearly everyone in the Outer Limb, it’s more central to their lives than the actual Galactic Core.”

Yukiko let out an impressed whistle.

“Perhaps when the war is over, we could pay a visit.” She said.

“We’d be glad to have you!” Kailani called out from her station at the helm. “Those shiny-heads at the Royal Science Academy would love a chance to see why Humans and Partogans are basically the same.”

“You make it sound like they wanna dissect us.” Sarah giggled nervously.

“Well, yeah. They definitely wanna dissect you.” Kailani admitted.



Caption said:
A group of Partogans watch unidentified spacecraft fly past while their ship remains grounded. Airless bodies and barely habitable worlds became very popular hiding spots for the scattered allied forces during the final year of the Second Hyperspace War owing to the fact that the Beast was primarily attracted to planets with very large amounts of biological life forms, allowing dead worlds such as Moana Nui to pass unnoticed.
Saturday, March 11, 2036 - 5:30pm
Ruins of Atarau, Moana Nui, Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth



Have you ever seen a stellar graveyard from the surface of an alien planet? If you ever get the chance, do it.

When we all stepped down the Kakama’s boarding ramp and arrived on the planet known as Moana Nui, Jericho, Sarah, Hal, Soylent, Kathleen, Tsubaki and I only had eyes for the heavens above us. The skies had been stained deep red and orange by the Supernova remnant that had enveloped this system. It was almost as though the sky itself was on fire. One hundred years ago, a nearby star named Ketu had exploded in an epic Supernova. The massive eruption had transformed the region of space around it, and it had also transformed the planet we were now standing on.

A century ago, Moana Nui had been an outpost of the Kingdom of Partoga. The planet itself was what Manako called an “Ocean World.” Over ninety percent of the planet surface was covered in water, and the remaining landmass had been urbanized by Partogan settlers. But when the Ketu star exploded, the Supernova utterly reshaped the planet, despite being hundreds of light-years away. The oceans of Moana Nui evaporated. Barely able to sustain life, the planet was abandoned by its inhabitants in favor of greener worlds.

But this hot, humid, wasteland of a world was still perfect for a badly damaged Frigate that needed a place to lay low while her crew effected some repairs. The permanent blanket of dense clouds that now covered the world hid us from all passerby.

The Kakama set down in what used to be the Atarau starport. According to Dolim, this place would have everything he needed to overhaul the ship’s nuclear reactor, assuming the Turanic Raiders hadn’t pillaged the place first, of course.

Since none of my team had the training to perform unscheduled, non-routine repair work on a badly damaged nuclear reactor, we were politely asked to “get out of the way” for a few hours. Jericho, Reepi, and Kanti separated from the group and moved off to the other side of the spaceport together. Our curiosity getting the best of us, the rest of the Stormbreakers, plus Sarah and Yukiko, followed along to witness Jericho’s Psionic training up close.

As it turned out, the vast majority of this training consisted of meditation. When Jericho and the two Vanians sat down on the crumbled tarmac in silence, we joined them. I couldn’t help but remember when Chihiro and I had both done something similar when we were little kids.

“Focus… is the key.” Reepi spoke in a slow, calm tone. “Pick a single thing. It could be a person, a concept, an idea, anything, and focus your mind upon it and nothing else. Purge yourself of all thought except this singular point. Hold this one thought in your mind alone, apart from your self and the world around you.”

Leaning back against some twisted metal hulk, I closed my eyes and cast my mind about for something to focus on. After a moment, I settled on Chihiro. This… didn’t work. My mind ran in circles as I couldn’t help but think about how much I missed her and couldn’t stop wondering how she was doing right now.

Reepi put me out of my misery after about an hour. He telekinetically summoned a six-foot long metal pole from the rubble of a nearby building and passed it to Jericho. Then Kanti asked the rest of us to take a few steps back. It was time for sparring practice to begin.

Now I’ve seen Psionic sparring before. When Chihiro learned how to share her powers with me, I had attended Psionic training with her a few times. Typically, when two Gifted people are practicing their psychokinetic combat abilities, they’ll stand on opposite sides of a fighting area and just attack one another with their minds. It kinda looks like the fight scenes in that Old-World movie about the boy wizard: “The Sorcerer Prince and Hallowed Chamber of the Phoenix.”

Yeah… that’s not what happened here.

Reepi attacked Jericho at the same time and left nothing to chance! The red and white peacock laid into her with Psionic Volts and lances, blasting her with Soulfire, but he didn’t stop at Psionics! He took flight and attacked Jericho from the air, attempting to cut or grab any part of her he could reach with his talons! Kanti and the rest of us all jumped back as Jericho retaliated with both physical and Psionic force. This mock battle carried on for about forty-five seconds before something very strange happened.

With no prior warning that I could see, right as the fight between Reepi and Jericho was starting to get extremely intense… they both stopped using their powers. The flare of Soulfire in Jericho’s hand suddenly went out, and the blight light in Reepi’s eyes abruptly vanished. Jericho seemed to be caught off-guard by this development because Reepi barreled forward and crashed into her chest!

Knocked over backwards, Jericho scrambled to get back to her feet, but Reepi caught her arm in his talons and threw her off-balance again!

“Adapt!” Reepi shouted. “Improvise!”

Jericho clutched the metal pipe Reepi had given her and swung it at his wings! He dodged it easily, turned around and flapped his impressive fifteen-foot wingspan directly in Jericho’s face, sending her tumbling to the ground again!

“Sloppy, undisciplined!” Reepi admonished her.

Jericho rolled onto her back and pointed her palms upwards, sending a roaring column of Soulfire up towards Reepi, who deflected it and shouted:

“Enough!”

Grumbling with disappointment, Jericho stood up and brushed herself off while Reepi came to a landing near her and shook out his feathers. It was over so quickly, and everyone who had just witnessed the Psionic sparring match had the same question:

“What happened back there?” Hal demanded to know. “Why’d you stop using your Gift?”

Panting, Reepi and Jericho both sat down on the dusty ground and looked at one another. Then Jericho said:

“Guys… there’s something wrong with the Gift. All our powers are becoming… well… what’s the best word here… inconsistent and unreliable. Yeah, that’s it. There’s something wrong with Psionics in general and I’m not too sure we can count on the Gift anymore.”

“All of the Gifted crew have been having the same problems.” Reepi added. “People have been having ‘Blackouts’ where their powers just vanish for a short while.”

Jericho nodded.

“At first the blackouts were really short, like when I blacked out at Chapel Perilous for a few seconds. Remember, Blake?”

I nodded, recalling the brief disappearance of Jericho’s powers that day over Hiigara, when her telekinesis had momentarily let her down, forcing the young Hawaiian to resort to brute strength instead.

“But recently they’ve started to get more serious.” Reepi finished. “Just a few days ago I had a blackout that lasted for nearly half a minute. To make matters worse, the blackouts are becoming more frequent. We’re all finding ourselves having to cope without our Gift on a near daily basis.”

“We have been doing resilience and adaptability training.” Kanti explained. “None of us have any idea what’s going on with Psionics these days, and we must be prepared for the moment when the Gift fails us entirely. Of course, we hope it never comes, but we need to be ready all the same.”



Thursday, March 16, 2036 - 4:00am


Now that I knew about the Psionic blackouts, I finally noticed the change in behavior amongst the Gifted crew. Manako seemed to be putting a brave face on the whole situation, but the Vanian crew were definitely the sort I could beat in a poker game. They were scared and it was showing. Many of the peacocks and peahens who served aboard the ship were becoming paranoid. They startled easily, and the ones who truly couldn’t handle the stress had started molting. You couldn’t take two steps on the Kakama without treading on lost feathers.

The molting only compounded problems, because Vanians place a great deal of importance on physical beauty and attractiveness. Vanian crew members who molted after losing their Gifts began suffering straight-up mental breakdowns, and had to be removed from duty for days at a time, squawking to anyone who would listen about how no one would ever love them again.

After spending a week down on the surface of Moana Nui, Dolim reported that the nuclear reactor was back online and we were ready to resume our journey towards Earth. The night before liftoff, Manako invited Jericho, Yukiko, and myself to the captain’s private dining room on deck one. When we got there, we found Adil, Dolim, and Reepi already seated and waiting for us. While a crewman served a meal of Kane-Ra (some kind of Partogan cow) and hot Thornax stew (crushed fruits served in their own spiky shell) Manako launched into the reason why we had gathered here.

“Miss Takahashi, Lieutenant Robinson, and Private Ray. I need to ask you all for a favor.”

I raised an eyebrow and cast quick looks at Jericho and Yukiko. The Human Envoy was tight-lipped and poker-faced, staring straight into Manako’s eyes. Jericho winced at the use of her true name, but then shook her head at me and mouthed the words:

“Having a blackout. Sorry.”

Yukiko decided to respond first, keeping her voice level and diplomatic:

“Considering all you’ve done to help us return home at your own expense, it might be safe to say we owe you a favor, Commander Ranginui. Please tell us what you need.”

Manako took a sip of water and rubbed the top of the glass with his thumb, as though he was having trouble picking his words.

“I know I promised to take you directly to Earth.” He began. “But for the past few days, I’ve been feeling a temptation… to take a detour.”

“To where?” Jericho asked.

Manako produced a small tablet computer from its place next to his dinner plate, tapped the screen, and brought up a map of the surrounding stellar region. He passed it to Adil. The Assurian officer turned the screen so we could all see it, and then pointed to a small red star.

“I want to go home.” Manako said. “To Partoga.”

Jericho, Yukiko, and I all shuffled in our seats. We were trying to quickly think of a reason to object that wouldn’t make us look ungrateful or disrespectful. Manako almost certainly read our minds, because he offered a quick clarification:

“I promise, it will be a short stopover.” He explained: “To use a Human expression, I intend to kill many birds with just a few stones. While in the Capitol, the ship can be given a proper overhaul and refit. We won’t be flying around in a ramshackle wreck held together with hopes and dreams. We’ll restock on provisions, and I’ll use my authority to get us an escort fleet.”

“Your authority?” Yukiko repeated.

Manako elaborated:

“Not only am I an officer in the Commonwealth Navy, but I am a member of a very illustrious and powerful family. My grandmother is Queen of the Commonwealth. I assure you; we can use those connections to great advantage.”

“I know what you mean.” I said, raising my glass in a gesture like a salute. “I’m married to the sister of an Emperor. Those familial ties are of the utmost value right now.”

“I’m glad you understand.” Manako sounded grateful. “Once I get us an escort fleet, we can move in complete safety. All told, we would be in the Capitol for just a few days, but to get there, we will need to double back about thirty light-years the way we came. There’s a Slipgate near Qurus that connects directly to Nithascal, which is just one Short Jump away from home… and…”

Manako trailed off. All eyes were on Jericho, who had stopped eating, her mouth frozen halfway through the act of chewing some Kane-Ra meat. She had narrowed her eyes and was looking at Manako with an intense piercing gaze. Right away, I knew that Jericho’s latest blackout had ended and she was using her powers again. Cautiously, knowing full well that Manako could hear my thoughts, I let a few choice words slip through my subconscious while I drank some Thornax stew.

Tastes like Soylent’s made up a new secret ingredient.

Jericho’s telepathic voice replied in my head right away.

I heard him thinking about it. He’s only keeping it a secret from the Avian crew. Maybe its chicken?

I had to fight really hard to keep a straight face while Jericho implanted the image of a stereotypical red and blue rooster in my mind. Meanwhile, Yukiko responded to Manako.

“You’re saying we would have to backtrack almost thirty light-years. How long will this detour take?”

“In the most optimistic of projections,” Dolim answered, “We expect to add at least one month to our journey, moving our projected arrival at Earth from mid-July to late August.”

Next to me, I felt Jericho stiffen in her seat. This was apparently very unwelcome news. I lightly touched Yukiko’s knee under the table to stop her from talking, then leaned forward and said:

“Uh, can I step out with my comrades for a minute? We need to discuss this.”



The three of us huddled together just outside the doorway to the Captain’s quarters and held a quiet but serious argument. All three of us took it in turns to voice our opinions.

“I know we all wanna go home.” I started. “And that we definitely know these folks a favor or two, but I’ve walked in Manako’s shoes. I know what it’s like to have a Head of State in the immediate family. Trust me, if he goes to Partoga, he’s going to get tangled up in so much red tape and security details that he won’t get off that damn planet for a year. Earth is in danger right now! Don’t forget the Galactic Front Line is on our goddamned doorstep!”

Jericho folded her arms and nodded at me, biting her lip.

“So you say no?”

“No!” I confirmed. “Ten thousand times no! We can’t afford to detour anywhere right now, let alone Partoga! Do you want to go?”

Jericho and Yukiko both nodded. My heart fell, hard.

“Partoga has natural deposits of Aetherium and Protodermis, strategic resources we need for the Trinity, which is being built on Earth!” Yukiko told me. “You’re right about the Galactic Front Line, Robinson. We simply don’t have time for a ship to come all the way out here from Earth! We need to pick up these resources now!”

I knew Yukiko was going to say that, but Jericho!?

“And you!?” I asked.

“Manako’s got an ulterior motive.” Jericho said. “There’s someone he wants to see on Partoga as soon as possible. Not his family, not his grandmother. He didn’t want to mention them in front of Reepi.”

Yukiko and I both paused.

“Wait, he’s keeping our destination a secret from Reepi?”

Nodding, Jericho said:

“Details are fuzzy, but Reepi’s got bad blood with these folks… this… Vanian Conclave of Telepaths. Manako’s already decided in his mind that he wants to take the risk and meet with them. He considers a meeting with the Conclave to be of utmost importance.”

I shook my head.

“What about the extra month!?” I persisted. “Anything could happen down on Earth by the time we get back!”

Jericho disagreed.

“Mira’s history database said that in every Cycle, Agamemnon doesn’t pose a threat to Earth until it knows for certain I’m there. Earth won’t be in danger until I get back. The Beast wants me, remember? We can string that to our advantage.”



Re-entering the room, Jericho, Yukiko, and I took our seats. Manako, Dolim, Reepi, and Adil had left their food untouched until we returned.

“So, what will it be?” Manako asked. “Will you permit the stopover in Partoga, or should we continue directly to Earth?”

Yukiko and Jericho both looked at me.

“I seem to remember I was outvoted.” I sighed. “It’s your call.”

Yukiko gave Manako a very warm smile.

“Yes, we’ll be more than happy to detour to Partoga. Would it be possible to present my diplomatic credentials to your government while I’m there?”

“I’m sure the Patriarchs of the two Great Families or even the Kuhina Nui would agree to meet with you.” Adil replied. “With your permission, Manako, I’ll make the arrangements as soon as we get close enough to the Capitol for short-range radio.”



The rest of our team had mixed reactions to the news of an extra month being added to our journey. Tsubaki tried her hardest to pretend she was totally on board with the idea, but I could tell she was feeling a little betrayed. After I explained that I had been opposed to the idea, Tsubaki hugged me so hard that her cybernetic legs bruised my knees. When Jericho offered to hug her, Tsubaki just kind of stood there with her arms limp at her sides.

Soylent was visibly upset. The novelty of space was starting to wear off for him, and now he just wanted to go home as soon as possible. Kathleen just rolled with the punches, and said she’d go anywhere as long as she got to stay with the team. Hal parroted Yukiko’s argument almost word for word, and Sarah was unexpectedly enthusiastic. She ran off towards the galley, saying she needed to tell Temirzhan about the change in plans.

So, with the crew informed of the detour and a destination chosen, the Kakama lifted off from the lifeless world of Moana Nui. Turning away from the dim point of yellow light that was our home and began to travel back the way it had come, towards a blue star in the Outer Limb, and one last Galactic landmark before we reached the Capitol of the Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth…



Saturday, March 31, 2036 - 2:00am
Near the Aakash Gate, Qurus Star System, Levakian Confederation


“Robinson! Report to the starboard observation deck!”

Before the intercom fell silent, Soylent kicked the underside of my bunk and grunted.

“What the hell does he want with you at the crack of dawn!?”

“Beats me.” I grumbled.

Reluctantly, I clambered down from my bunk and quickly threw on the green and orange flight suit that was the standard uniform of the Commonwealth Navy. My own US Army uniform was beyond repair and had long ago been fed to the Phased Disassembler Array, so that the minerals and fibers used to make it could be put to some other use. Yawning and mumbling, I made my way up one deck and started making my way to the Kakama’s starboard side. All of the normal white running lights in the hallways had been shut off and instead, the corridors were lit with red lights, letting me know that the ship had been rigged for silent running, and that the Cloaking Sail was active.

The observation deck was a long thin room that was a kind of rec area for the crew. There’s one on each side of the ship. A wide window presented a glorious view of the cosmos outside. We were now on the outermost periphery of what had once been the Ketu Supernova. Fragments of stellar remnant swam through space like an oil slick in seawater around us.

In the observation deck, leaning against a metal railing that separated them from the window, I found Manako, Temirzhan, Elsina, and Jericho. When they saw me approach, Manako stepped away from the window and pointed at a stellar formation just below the Kakama.

“Look down there, Robinson.”

Leaning my head out just enough to see over the railing, I spotted what Manako was pointing at and did a double-take.

“Wait, what!?” I gasped. “Is that a-?”

“Not anymore.” Manako finished. “It hasn’t been for over a century. That used to be the planet called Asalele. It was destroyed by Akira Robinson.”


Caption said:
The Asalele stellar graveyard. More than a century has gone by since this planet was destroyed in the final action of the 1928 Levakian Uprising, and it is still not known how many people died during this tragedy. Historians estimate that somewhere between 11 and 14 million lives were lost during the Destruction of Asalele.
Down below the Kakama was a roughly spherical-shaped cloud of rocks and debris. Many chunks were still curved enough that I could recognize them as having once been tectonic plates. Like the seeds of a dandelion, bits and pieces of the former planet were flying away from the core, but in general, the millions of chunks that had once been a single planet flew through space together, like a silent funeral procession.

“She did this!?” I was so shocked my voice cracked.

“Yes.” Manako confirmed. “One hundred years ago, this planet was a fledgling colony with the potential to become a great and powerful world. Now it is a grave for an unknowable number of innocent victims.”

“A century ago, she manipulated my ancestors into fighting the Partogans.” Elsina told me. “She provoked us into a battle we couldn’t win.”

“Our great Queen fought Akira and defeated her,” Temirzhan added, “But not before this happened. Akira claimed that everything she was doing was to build ‘a perfect future,’ at least, that’s what Her Majesty told us afterward.”

“I don’t see how this kind of death and destruction fits into Akira’s vision of a perfect future.” I admitted.

“No one does.” Manako concluded. “Before the Beast showed up, and before even the Vaygr Wars, people all around the galaxy debated what Akira’s perfect future might have looked like. There was no consensus, and frankly, I couldn’t care less.”

“None of us care, either.” Elsina growled. “Akira’s a murderer, Blake. Innocent people shouldn’t have to pay for her future with their lives.”

Temirzhan put one hand on my shoulder and gave me a serious look. The many ridges along his forehead amplified this expression and made it much more intimidating.

“We want you to know, Robinson, that with the Galactic Council dispersed and unlikely to gather again soon, our intentions towards Akira have changed.”

“If we see her again,” Elsina finished, “and I’m sure we will. We’re going to kill her. No hesitation. No questions. We will shoot on sight, and if you get in the way, we’ll shoot you too.”

I felt a horrible lurch in my stomach. Honestly, I had mixed feelings about this. Sure, a year ago I would have agreed to this plan in a heartbeat without a second thought. But now Chihiro and I had actually gotten some time to know Akira. I had seen the horrifying images in her mind, but I had a little bit of context and understanding to go with them now. In the core of my soul, I just knew I no longer had that desire to see Akira dead.

Punished? Absolutely.

Executed? Not anymore.

After thinking for a moment, I found a middle ground I thought I could live with. I’ll admit, my voice wavered a bit when I said this:

“Alternate timeline or not, she’s my daughter. My manipulative, deceitful, and genocidal daughter. If you try to kill her, I promise I’ll step aside… but I will not stop Akira from defending herself.”

Manako had almost certainly read my mind. He nodded slowly and replied:

“Thank you. I’ll respect that.” He said. “Stopping Akira from tampering with history is all we want to do here.”

On this note, Jericho butted into the conversation.

“Well, if it helps, you definitely don’t have to worry about her escaping to another time.”

Temirzhan, Elsina, Manako and I all looked at her.

“Care to explain?” I asked.

Jericho gave me a sly smile.

“Isis told me about what you did for me in China.” Jericho replied. “You had Akira to you to her ship so that you could use her tech to heal me. And you know what I did while we were camped out on Kauai? I told Mira about it. Where Akira’s ship is, what kind of state it’s in, everything.”

A grin split Jericho’s features, like a child who finally got to reveal the practical joke she’d played on her friends.

“Mira and I promised each other.” She finished. “The instant one of us saw or heard anything that made us think Akira was active, we’d drop whatever we were doing, head over to Jilin, and smash the Ark Angel into a powder. Then we’d blow up the whole region to make sure we got the Time Core. Trust me, guys. Mira’s got the Ark Angel under surveillance back home. If Akira tries to pull anything, her time travel days will end!”

Jericho snapped her fingers, and a shower of sparks flew away from her fingertips like miniature fireworks.

“Just like that!”

Manako, Temirzhan, and Elsina all voiced their approval, talking so loudly that they almost missed the voice of Kailani as it came over the intercom:

“Standby for Slipgate Jump in five! Four! Three! Two! One! Slipgate!”

In an instant, faster even than the blink of an eye, the view through the window changed as every star jumped from one place to another! The dull grey and white clouds of Supernova Remnant vanished and were replaced by a bright red formation of stellar dust shaped a little like flower petals. The billowing red cloud obscured the starfield in front of our window.

“Commander,” Kailani spoke over the intercom. “We’ve arrived in the Gardens of Kadesh, just outside of the Nithascal system. Estimated time to the Capitol: about half a day.”

“Very good, Kalili.” Manako replied. “Take us to the Capitol at best possible speed.”

I yawned and turned towards the door.

“I’m going to try and get some sleep before we arrive.” I said. “Sounds like tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.”

Taking her que from me, Jericho also made to leave, but before we’d gone more than a few paces, Kailani’s voice came over the intercom again, this time sounding much more urgent!

“Commander, we’re picking up a short-wave radio transmission from the Capitol!”

Jericho and I froze. There was something about Kailani’s tone of voice that made us think she had not heard a standard greeting. Manako stepped over to a computer console by the door and slid his command card into the reader.

“We’ll take it in here, Kalili.” Manako called back. “What’s the time delay?”

“About five hours.” Kailani answered. “It’s a high-power signal, someone’s put a lot of power behind this! Standby, the message is coming through now!”

Manako, Elsina, Jericho, Temirzhan and I all held our breath as the audio message was replayed for all of us to hear. A male voice spoke in a rapid pace with a hint of desperation:

“This is LVK Tantomile to any Commonwealth ships in range! The Beast is attacking! They are attempting to bypass Fort Daxia and raid the Capitol! We cannot hold them! Require immediate assistance!”

Well, so much for sleep. Jericho and I dashed back to the crew quarters to wake up our comrades while Manako addressed the entire ship through the intercom system:

“General quarters! General quarters! All hands to your battle stations! De-activate the Cloaking Sail! Polarize armor, full power to sensors, load both torpedo tubes! Charge the Hyperspace Module and prepare for an emergency maximum range jump!”


 
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HistoryDude

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Convenient that they got there just in time to help...

The Sorcerer Prince and Hallowed Chamber of the Phoenix - Is Blake just quoting all the Harry Potter titles he can remember here?

Also, does the Gift not working have anything to do with the Beast pressing the Whisperers in the Void and the End of the Cycle into its service?

Are the Vanian mentioned here the group that has the Instrument of Desire?

Also, isn't Trinity a psionic weapon? And if Psionics are unreliable...

Arguably, Blake's wish for Akira to live can be done to the satisfaction of all parties. Have her live - and long for death.

I kind of want Akira to die at the end of the Second Hyperspace War, and her last words to be: "I wanted a perfect future, and now I have it. Especially with my death. It wouldn't be perfect if I was alive."
 

Macavity116

The First Stormbreaker
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  • Stellaris
The Sorcerer Prince and Hallowed Chamber of the Phoenix - Is Blake just quoting all the Harry Potter titles he can remember here?
It's a little bit of an easter egg. Blake missed out on the Harry Potter franchise entirely owing to World War Three, but he is vaguely aware of its existence.


Also, does the Gift not working have anything to do with the Beast pressing the Whisperers in the Void and the End of the Cycle into its service?
It's got everything to do with the End of the Cycle being absorbed by Agamemnon, and not so much the Whisperers.


Are the Vanian mentioned here the group that has the Instrument of Desire?
Yes. This is a direct reference to "The Seance" event chain in Stellaris, where the player empire breaches the Shroud by assembling a large group of Psions and have them work in tandem.


Also, isn't Trinity a psionic weapon? And if Psionics are unreliable...
Yes, it is. The threat of Psionic Blackouts may just open up the possibility of the Trinity suffering a catastrophic failure.
 
Chapter 33: Everything is Different Now

Macavity116

The First Stormbreaker
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  • Stellaris
Wishing the happiest of birthdays to the one who's been reading this trilogy over my shoulder (Literally!) since Chapter 1.1 of After Everything! Many happy returns @RedMotorCycle!

This chapter contains a couple of big reveals as well as a tiny retcon for Faith in Chaos. (Someone's backstory is getting altered) Buckle those seatbelts and enjoy!


Chapter Thirty-Three
Everything is Different Now

Caption said:
A depiction of the immediate family tree of Chihiro's new daughter. The new Robinson is a multinational child, she has ties to families in Japan, America, and France.
Tuesday, February 18, 2036 – 11:15am
Lanai City, Lanai Island, Republic of Hawaii



Stepping out the main door of the UNS Tigermoth, Mira found a scene of devastation. Nearly half of Lanai City had been destroyed. Wisps of pale smoke curled up from a few buildings that were still burning, and overworked firefighters were started to come off the front lines for some desperately-needed rest. UN soldiers and VDF troops moved in to take their place. For the most part, though, the situation had finally been brought under control. The danger had long since passed and now focus was slowly turning from damage control to cleanup.

At the crater that had once been a high school, the skeleton of the starship once known as Tren Krom continued to smolder. A group of Vanian investigators had descended on the site and were leaving no piece of rubble unturned. Mira could sense the residual Psionic energy in the air as her escort walked her around the crash site.

“What happened here?” Mira asked.

UN pilot Wendy Carter gestured to the wreck with her submachine gun.

“The Beast happened.” Wendy explained. “The creature came out of the ship and started attacking. If Sergeant Tachibana hadn’t been here, we’d all probably be dead.”

Mira pursed her lips and didn’t say anything. It was too soon to voice her worries. Instead, she continued to follow Wendy to her destination.

The Lanai Community Hospital was far removed from the disaster that had befallen the town, but it was no less important. A triage area had been set up in the parking lot. Soldiers and firefighters filtered in and out of the building while a group of medical workers, showing general symptoms of exhaustion and dehydration.

Wendy flashed her credentials and she and Mira were allowed inside of the building.

“Honestly, I think it’s good that Robinson gave Tachibana a baby.” Wendy said casually. “I didn’t think she was coping with his death all that well.”

“You really think Robinson and the others are dead?” Mira asked.

“Come on, we all know what the Beast did to Hiigara.” Wendy scoffed. “We might not have proof or bodies, but even a kid can put two and two together. Here we are.”

They had reached the NICU ward. Isis Dekker had fallen asleep in an armchair in the waiting area, and the rest of the Stormbreakers were nowhere to be seen. Mira fished around in her pockets and pulled out a few Credits.

It had taken several months, but the UN government had finally figured out how to create something that Humans, aliens, and Hybrids alike could accept as currency. UN Credits only came in the form of coins made from stamped alloys for now. Once the electronic banking system came online in a few months, the new global economy would be much more straightforward. Mira gave a handful of Credits to Wendy and asked for two meals from the cafeteria, one for herself and one for Chihiro. Wendy took the money and left Mira alone in the NICU ward.

With one hand, Mira knocked on the door to the room where Chihiro had been resting since that fateful night. With the other, she reached into her satchel and pulled out her tablet computer. Two removable devices, each the size of a housekey, were already attached to it.

“Come in!”

Mira stepped into Chihiro’s room. She was greeted by the same sight as the Stormbreakers had found yesterday. Chihiro was still favoring a wheelchair over the nearby bed so that she could be close to the complicated machinery that was keeping her baby alive. The small child squirmed and flailed for a moment before falling still and relaxing again.

“Hello, Chihiro. I’m so happy to see you’re both doing well.” Mira set her tablet on the table next to the little girl and gave Chihiro a hug. “When I heard about what happened, I came as quickly as I could.”

“You mean as quick as you could give Colonel Kelly the slip?” Chihiro replied. “I’m sorry the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is putting you through the gauntlet. Did you ever find out who accused you?”

“A Skirmisher named Zephyr.” Mira replied, then added in a remorseful tone: “I killed and maimed so many of their comrades when I was the Chosen Assassin. At some point I will have to go to Berlin, confess, and ask for amnesty.”

Mira and Chihiro both looked at one another and sighed. Mira couldn’t blame Chihiro for her hesitation here. Very few people in this world can claim to have befriended an accused war criminal. Determined to stay on track, Mira gestured to the infant Chihiro was keeping vigil over.

“May I meet her?”

Chihiro perked right up. She (quite rightfully) seemed to enjoy introducing people to her child. With a little groan, Chihiro pulled herself out of the wheelchair and stood upright, leaving behind a softcover book on the armrest. Mira snatched a quick glance at the book and saw that it was titled “Redefining Silence: The Definitive Guide to Raising Deaf Children.”

Reaching into the little crib, Chihiro gently brushed her child’s head with one hand and said:

“This is Himawari Alexandria.” Chihiro cooed softly. “She was so eager to meet everyone that she showed up two months early!”

Ah. So, this was why all the medical equipment was necessary. Babies who were born too early often needed assistance from machines to survive their first few weeks of life. A premature birth would also explain why Chihiro had never looked visibly pregnant.

With Chihiro’s permission, Mira reached into the crib and gently introduced herself to Himawari. The newborn girl squirmed about and grabbed Mira’s finger, wrapping her little hands around it and gripping as tightly as an infant could grip just about anything else.

“Himawari, huh?” Mira slowly moved her finger up and down, giving the youngest Robinson her first handshake. “Such a lovely name.”

“One of the doctors told me I delivered at sunrise.” Chihiro explained. “He made a joke that little Himawari just wanted to see the morning light, and I called her a sunflower. The Japanese name just kinda stuck.”

Himawari released Mira’s finger and started to reach and grasp at thin air. Chihiro gently touched her child’s face and checked to make sure the breathing tube was still in place. Himawari opened her eyes. She looked straight up and made eye contact with Chihiro for a few seconds, and Mira felt her heart skip a beat!

Himawari had purple eyes!

Mira needed to be sure. Making sure to keep her actions subtle, she reached out telepathically…

The mind of a newborn baby is a chaotic place filled with impulses, confused reflexes, and strange sensory inputs that made little to no sense. But in the midst of that storm of light and sound, Mira spotted what she was looking for. Buried deep in Himawari’s barely-functional mind, embedded within the ill-defined borders of her soul… was the Gift. Mira perceived it a point of soft, warm light in the center of an otherwise dark and cold environment.

Withdrawing from Himawari’s mind, Mira felt a rising sense of panic. No! This was all wrong! Grabbing her tablet computer in one hand, Mira had to consciously order her left hand to stop shaking before she used it to embrace Chihiro.

“I’m so happy for you, Chihiro.” Mira said, trying to pass off the waver in her voice as joyful crying. “If Blake were here, I daresay he’d fall in love all over again.”

Chihiro couldn’t hold back her own tears. Crying into Mira’s shoulder, she didn’t notice when Mira lightly touched the back of her head and implanted a telepathic suggestion.

You need rest. You should get some sleep.

“I’m sorry.” Chihiro sobbed. “I-I… I think I just need some sleep.”

“I’ll leave you to get some rest.” Mira said. “Carter is bringing some food from the Cafeteria; I’ll make sure to cover yours up so it doesn’t get cold.”

Mira helped Chihiro climb back into bed and started moving to leave. Mira hadn’t gotten more than three feet towards the door, however, when she heard the telltale deep breathing of someone who’d been put into a supernatural sleep. Chihiro was down for the count, and Mira doubled back to the crib, using Psionics to keep Chihiro unconscious. Himawari also seemed to be asleep of her own accord. Good.

Mira quickly tapped a command into her tablet and one of the two devices attached to it activated. A small shutter retracted, revealing a receptacle within. Mira grabbed a cotton swab from a nearby table and took a deep breath.

“I apologize in advance.” She said to Himawari. “This will only hurt for the briefest moment.”

Mira reached forward and unsecured Himawari’s breathing tube, pulling it a few millimeters out of her mouth just long enough for Mira to swab the girl’s lips. Once Mira got the sample she needed, she quickly replaced the breathing tube and left the baby to her sleep. Mira wiped the cotton swab on the little receptacle on her tablet, then punched another command into the touchscreen. The shutter closed and Mira left the room.

Once she was in the waiting area, she took a seat in the couch opposite from the one where Isis was still passed out. Keeping her back to the wall, Mira looked around to make sure no one was watching before she activated the Human History Database, the other device attached to her tablet.

On the screen, words appeared.

Sys/ Genetic material detected. Please select a function to perform.

Mira typed with both hands. She was sweating and just a little shaky from nervousness.

Cmd_usr/ IDENTIFY

Sys/ Identifying owner of genetic material. Please wait. Do not power off your device.

Mira waited. While she did, she looked around at everyone else in the area. She was feeling justifiably paranoid. She wasn’t looking for attackers or spies.

She was keeping watch for the Paradox.

Sys/ Operation complete.

Mira quickly opened the test results, and her worst fears were finally confirmed:

Sys/ Genetic material presented belongs to ASUNA ANGELINE ROBINSON (Human, Post-2HW Era)

99.99% probability of a match / 00.01% Probability of error

Would you like to see the most recent relevant document attached to this name?


Mira swore to herself quietly. So, this really was Blake’s firstborn child, born over eight months early (as far as the timeline is concerned) and given a different name. She tried to remember all of her Human history lessons during her first visit to Earth aboard the Midak. Then she recalled her interactions with Akira aboard the Ark Angel. Now that Mira thought about it, she couldn’t remember anyone ever saying whether or not Asuna Robinson had been Gifted. She decided to bring up that document the computer had mentioned and check.

The document was a coroner’s report from the 115th Cycle. It was a digitized document stamped with the seal of the Hawaiian Republic:

Kauai County Coroner’s office – June 29, 2059

Patient name: Asuna Angeline Robinson

Date and place of Birth: September 11, 2036 (Suwamachi, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan)

Date and place of Death: June 28, 2059 (Wailua, Kauai Island, Hawaii)

Hair/Eye color: Black/Brown

Occupation: First Lady-elect of the Hawaiian Republic (President-elect Duane Gardner)

Immediate Cause of Death: Heart failure due to impalement injury to the chest


Coroner’s notes:
Patient is a 23-year-old (non-Gifted) female Human of Afro-Asian descent. Found deceased at her home, which had burned down. Lack of smoke in the lungs indicates patient was deceased before the fire. I have ruled the manner of death as HOMICIDE via Psionic construct. Investigation turned over to Hawaiian National Police.



This was wrong! It was all so wrong! Mira knew exactly what had happened here, and it scared her.

Akira.

There was no mistaking the signs. The Paradox was active and interfering again. Somehow, she had managed to cancel out Asuna’s existence in this timeline and replace her with someone else. Why? To what end? How did erasing the life of her own sister contribute to this so-called “Perfect Future?”

Mira was suddenly conscious of just how paranoid she was starting to feel. She shut off her tablet and returned it to her satchel. Looking around, she saw the Templar called Duane Gardner struggling to get Violet to return to her room. The woman seemed to be disoriented. Looking around in confusion, Violet spoke out loud to herself:

“Everyone’s talking all at once! I can’t hear what you’re saying!”

Moving slowly, the disoriented redhead ambled into another room while Duane followed behind her, looking frightened.

“What’s her problem?” Isis mumbled.

Mira stood up and grabbed her satchel. She’d made up her mind in a moment, and had committed herself to the next course of action. Akira had made her move, and now the Kohlii ball was on Mira’s goal line. She needed to act quickly and decisively.

“Isis, I need you to do me a favor.”

Sitting up on her couch, Isis raised her eyebrow at Mira.

“Sure, whattaya need?” Isis replied groggily.

“Tell Commander Bradford that I am going to destroy the Ark Angel.” Mira explained. “Akira’s active and I need to move fast.”

Before Isis could make sense of what Mira had said, she had already left.



Racing out the main doors, Mira crashed into a group of people just outside the hospital entrance. They were so busy arguing with one another that they hardly noticed Mira. In a hurry to get away, Mira offered a quick apology before starting to move down the parking lot. Unfortunately, one of the men grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her back.

“You! You’re an XCOM soldier, right? Tell these guards to let us inside!”

Groaning with frustration, Mira turned around to look at the people who had accosted her.

It was a very unusual group, to say the least, only one of whom Mira actually recognized. There was a black-skinned man with a bald head, dressed up in the uniform of the Free French Forces. There was also a short woman with white skin, green eyes, and grey hair who was clearly too old to be guerilla fighter, yet looked comfortable in the role all the same. Finally, there were four Japanese men, two of whom seemed to be bodyguards, while the other two wore formal business attire. One of them was Ryo Nakagawa, the Prime Minister of Japan, and he was looking quite hassled and frustrated. He was the one who had grabbed Mira, and now he was dragging her back towards the two UN soldiers who were guarding the hospital doors.

“I’m sorry, sir.” Said one of the guards, a Nigerian man with the whitest teeth Mira had ever seen. “Sergeant Tachibana made it explicitly clear that Miss Mihaka and members of the Stormbreaker Squad are the only ones allowed to visit her at this time. You have to come back later.”

Prime Minister Nakagawa looked as though he was going to punch somebody in the face.

“Do you know who this man is!?” He raged.

To his right, the other business casual man folded his arms and gave the guards a stern look.

“This is Tennō Heika! Sovereign of Japan!” Nakagawa declared. “You will stand aside for him.”

“Oh! Uh… I apologize, mister Emperor.” Replied the Nigerian soldier. “This is Hawaii, not Japan. You have no power here.”

Mira did a double-take as the man’s identity was confirmed for her. Chihiro Tachibana’s older brother, the 126th Emperor of Japan, was a man of average height and weight, yet he carried himself as though he were much bigger. When the Nigerian soldier denied him entry, the Emperor spoke.

“I have every right to be here.” His English was impeccable. “A child of Japanese royal blood has been born. There are traditions and rites that must be upheld!”

A sudden thought struck Mira and she laughed out loud, unable to help herself. It was actually quite obvious to her, and she found it funny that both the Emperor and Nakagawa had failed to see the glaring problem with their claim.

“Ha! You don’t know!”

Before the Emperor could respond, both the Frenchman and the American woman rounded on Mira.

“Look, Hybrid, you gonna let us in or what!?” The woman complained. “I just wanna see my new niece!”

“Niece!?” Mira repeated, “Who the hell are you? And you, too! Why do any of you care about Himawari that much!?”

The black Frenchman puffed out his chest with a little pride.

“I am Adrien Fournier! And that girl is the daughter of my aunt’s son!” He said. “That makes her my flesh and blood! I am here to take her back to France, to her true family!”

“Bullshit!” Cried the American woman. “That girl is a Robinson! She’s coming with me to Michigan!”

She reached across Ryo Nakagawa’s front and gave Mira a quick handshake, introducing herself as an afterthought.

“Name’s Miranda. Miranda Robinson. Blake was my brother’s kid.”

Mira wanted to ask why Blake had spent the whole of the previous year believing his aunt to be dead, but Nakagawa and the Emperor both talked over everyone.

“That child is Her Imperial Highness, the Princess Himawari of Asami!” Nakagawa protested. “She is going to Japan!”

Realizing what was going on, Mira pulled herself free of Nakagawa’s grip and started to back away from the group.

“So, you’re all in the same family now, huh?” Mira laughed more than she meant to. “Good luck with that! I can’t help you.”

Leaving the bickering men and woman behind, Mira paused only once to send a Psionic pulse back into the hospital. Telepathic energy enveloped Chihiro and soaked into her body, deepening her sleep to the point where nothing and no one would wake her for at least twelve hours. She would need to be fully rested before confronting that big of a problem.



Wendy Carter didn’t realize Mira was trying to steal her gunship until the engines had started to spool up. Dashing across the grassy airfield, Wendy waved her arms at the Tigermoth while in the control room, Mira carried out her final pre-flight checks. Wendy’s gunship had, six months ago, been an ADVENT interceptor that normally required a crew of four or five to operate. Mira, however, used to be the Chosen Assassin. She knew her way around this type of type ship very well, and in a matter of minutes, she was ready for takeoff… except for the fact that Wendy was trying to force her way through the main door.

Mira swore and quickly moved towards the central flight computer. She opened up a compartment and withdrew a glowing orange crystal roughly the size of an American football. She loosely dropped the crystal and it began to hover a few feet above the floor; after a couple of seconds, an alien being materialized out of thin air, the orange crystal encased within its body. The lithoid alien stood at attention and waited for Mira’s orders.


Caption said:
An Outsider, photographed outside of its ship during the early months of the Second Hyperspace War. These lithoid aliens were employed as pilots and navigators for the starships of the ADVENT fleet.
Mira spoke to the Outsider:

“Status report.”

The Outsider looked Mira in the eyes and spoke in an alien language that any Human would have failed to understand, but Mira used a combination of her Gift and knowledge of the ADVENT Hybrid’s language to make sense of what the Outsider was saying:

“All systems green. Engine power up sequence 90 percent complete. The UNS Tigermoth is ready to fly.”

“Good.” Mira issued her orders while moving towards the main door. “Set a course for Jilin, Manchuria. Take off when I give the order!”

At once, the Outsider’s humanoid body dissolved, reducing itself to just a hovering crystal once more. The Outsider Shard inserted itself into a receptacle in the flight computer, which began to hum loudly as it worked. Mira, meanwhile, used a wall console to de-activate the force fields covering the main door. Wendy was right on the other side of it, her long red hair disheveled from running all the way here and her eyes were now partially hidden behind her bangs, and she was aiming a small machine pistol at Mira.

“What the hell are you doing!?” Wendy shouted. “Get out of there!”

“I apologize, Carter.” Mira answered. “I must take your ship to settle an urgent matter.”

“No you’re not, ma’am!” Wendy chambered a round in her MAC-11. “Director Kelly said you had to go back to Easter Island when you were done here! The GTRC isn’t done with you yet! If you go anywhere else, the UN will put out a warrant for your arrest! You’ll be a fugitive!”

“Very well then.” Mira said coldly. “While you do that, I’m going to find Akira and capture or kill her before she can do any more damage to our timeline!”

Using telekinesis, Mira pulled the machine pistol out of Wendy’s hands and then pushed her away from the ship.

“Tell your superiors I’ll see them in Berlin once I’ve destroyed the Ark Angel!” Mira finished, and then she re-activated the force fields.

The Tigermoth lifted off from the island, turned to the east, and started racing towards China, where the Stormbreakers had last encountered Akira’s spaceship.



Tuesday, February 18, 2036 – 5:00pm
Ruins of Jilin City, Manchuria, East Asia



Surging across the Chinese landscape at top speed, Mira knew something was going on at Jilin long before she reached the city. A patrol of UN aircraft rose up from the airfield at Shenyang and started to chase the Tigermoth, challenging her and broadcasting warnings on emergency frequencies. Mira decided that a course of partial cooperation would get her where she needed to go without a fight. Over the radio, Mira told the UN flyers that she would only land in Jilin, and would not divert to any other airfield.

This must have struck a nerve with AFUNE command, because it took nearly five minutes for the UN fighters to call back, saying they would escort Mira to Jilin before forcing her to land there. The reluctance in the pilot’s voice raised a few alarms for Mira, and soon she saw why.

Jilin International Airport, the place where (according to Jericho) Akira had hidden the Ark Angel, was overrun by AFUNE forces. From the air, Mira could see two UN spaceplanes on the runway, their boarding ramps deployed. She could also make out two distinct security cordons. A ring of soldiers, weapons, and vehicles stretched for a two-hundred-yard radius around the airport. Mira flew in a low circle above Jilin, taking a good look at the group of soldiers and tanks in their tight little perimeter around the hangar before landing her ship on a helipad just outside of the security perimeter.

XCOM’s Chief Engineer Lily Shen was waiting for Mira when she disembarked from the Tigermoth. She was accompanied her android, Julian, and appeared to be justifiably upset.

“Lieutenant Dekker called Bradford and he called us!” Shen started. “Sorry to rain on your parade, but we can’t let you destroy the Ark Angel.”

“The longer that ship stays intact, the greater the chance Akira will come back for the Time Core.” Mira retorted. “We can’t allow that to happen!”

Mira raised one hand and prepared to crush the entire aircraft hangar with telekinesis! Lily and Julian both placed themselves between Mira and the hangar that contained the Ark Angel, arms wide!

“No!” Lily protested. “Harper and a bunch of other people are inside!”

Mira hesitated.

“WHAT!? WHY!?”



Following Lily and Julian into the hangar, Mira was shocked at the sight before her.

She knew from stories the Stormbreakers had told her that Akira had abandoned the Ark Angel, claiming that she no longer needed it. Unlike Blake and Chihiro, Mira had never believed this claim for an instant. When she saw the state of disrepair and neglect the old spaceplane had fallen into, however, she was forced to admit she might have been wrong. The Ark Angel was wrecked, but nowhere near as badly as when Blake and the others had visited last year.

A group of AFUNE engineers and androids had erected a scaffold around the spaceplane and were meticulously deconstructing it. Pulling the vessel apart one piece at a time, Mira could see into the vessel’s overgrown and utterly ruined interior. In an instant, she knew what was going on.

“The Time Core.” Mira said aloud. “What does AFUNE want with it?”

She could see a pulsing blue light coming from the Ark Angel’s Time Core chamber, which had been exposed to the open air for the first time ever by the removal of the dorsal hull.

“I’m sorry, Mihaka.” Lily responded. “I know you talked about destroying it with Commander Harper, but we had to redesign the Trinity after we lost Jericho. She was supposed to be the pilot because her powers could regenerate. Without her, we needed a new power source. So, the new version of the weapon needs a Progenitor Hyperspace Core to function. And you did say that the Time Core is just a modified Hyperspace Core. We had to keep you out of the loop for security reasons.”

“And what ‘security reasons’ do you mean by that?” Mira asked coldly.

Lily and Julian both pointed towards the Eastern wall of the hangar. The android spoke up:

“She’s here.” Julian explained. “She’s been trying to recover the Time Core ever since that Vanian ship crashed into Hawaii.”

Goosebumps rose all over Mira’s body as though she’d been plunged into a vat of cold water. Akira was here. In all likelihood, Mira had flown directly over her head on the way in!

“So, that explains the cordon of soldiers.” Mira guessed.

Lily nodded.

“Yeah. At first, we denied Akira entry to the site and she got angry, but she stayed out. A few hours later, she tried to sneak in with a disguise, but Harper caught her. That was when Akira got violent. She attacked with Psionics, hurt a lot of people and killed one of our guys. Now Harper’s using her Gift to keep Akira out, but whenever she blacks out, the troops cover for her until it’s over.”

“Until what’s over?”

Lily shuddered.

“When the blackout ends, there a few seconds where our Psionic defenses are down, and that’s when Akira makes a run at the hangar. She’s basically got us under a one-woman siege here. She gains a few dozen meters on us every time. AFUNE and the VDF are doing their best, but we can’t hold her forever.”

Mira was starting to realize that she’d walked into a serious situation.

“Does Harper have a plan to get out of here?” Mira asked. “Where is she?”

Lily stuck her thumb out towards the Ark Angel.

“She’s inspecting the Time Core. And yeah, we’ve got a whole plan for extraction once we get the package loaded onto a ship. Basically, we’re gonna pull out and let Akira have the hangar once we’re done with it.”

It was a decent plan. Without the Time Core, the Ark Angel would be useless to Akira.

“Doesn’t that mean she’ll just follow the ship with the Time Core on it?” Mira asked.

“We’re still working on that part.” Lily admitted. “Nobody expected to have to fight our way out of here.”

“No, you weren’t ready for Akira to be violent.” Mira said. “You people had plenty of warning, Shen! Robinson saw inside her mind! You knew what she was capable of, and yet you still fell for her deceptions! Now we’re all about to pay the…”

Mira trailed off. She had just realized something. Turning back to Lily, she said:

“You said you’re planning to use the Time Core in the Trinity… are you going to undo Akira’s enhancements, or just… oh, no…”

Lily shook her head in confirmation.

“We’re not going to dismantle the time manipulation equipment.” Lily admitted. “The Trinity is going to use the Time Core as-is.”

A terrifying realization washed over Mira. Laura Harper wanted to weaponize the Time Core!

Pushing past Lily and Julian, Mira quickly scrambled up the scaffolding ladder and boarded the skeletal remains of the Ark Angel. Behind her, Lily shouted:

“Harper’s in the core chamber! She’s expecting you! I’ll be outside!”



The Ark Angel’s core chamber wasn’t an enclosed space anymore. The ceiling had been removed, along with all of the corresponding dorsal armor. The Time Core itself was hanging suspended from the arm of a crane, while UN Secretary General Laura Harper stood beside it, examining it closely. When Mira opened the hatchway and entered the chamber, she was planning to berate and admonish the former XCOM Commander for attempting to weaponize time itself, but when she saw the… thing… hovering in midair right behind Harper, Mira froze up, her shock and surprise both immeasurable.

There was an Ethereal hanging in the air just behind Laura Harper. Unlike the ones Mira had seen in the Alien Fortress, this Ethereal was mostly blue instead of purple, and its semi translucent form was radically different from the Angelis Ethereal. Quickly, Mira spotted the difference between this creature and the Elders: it was unclothed. The Elders had worn long red robes and ornate gold and silver helmets to set themselves apart from everyone else. The Ethereal behind Laura wore no such clothing, and kept all four of its arms outstretched. The Ethereal’s head turned in the exact same way as hers as she noticed Mira’s entry.

Finally lost for words, Mira just stammered.

“Wh… what… huh?”

Laura slowly raised her hands and spoke:

“Calm down, Mihaka. It’s alright. But seriously, you should have knocked before just barging in like that. You almost broke Asaru’s focus.”

“Asaru?” Mira repeated. “That thing has a name!?”


Caption said:
Pictured: The Ethereal known as Asaru. Born on Earth in 1962, Asaru has grown quite attached to Humanity and can be described as highly defensive of his Homeworld. According to XCOM records, his "Ethereal seed" was found in the Elerium mines of Bannack, Montana.
Laura looked offended.

“Of course I have a name! And it’s rude to talk about me as though I’m not here!” she said.

Mira did a double-take. She was so confused by this development that her train of thought had completely derailed.

“Wait… what!? What’s going on!? What are you doing with that thing!?”

Laura shook her head in frustration.

“We’re in the middle of a crisis and she wants a class.” The Secretary-General mumbled to herself. Then she addressed Mira. “Very well, the short version. Asaru here is the first and only Ethereal born on Earth. He’s been bonding to Humans for his entire life.”

Unaware of the fact that her mouth had fallen open, Mira absentmindedly reached for her tablet computer while Laura talked, determined to take notes.

“I am a representation of what my people used to be.” Laura went on. “Before the days of the Elders and their Avatars.”

“Wait a minute.” Mira interrupted. “Am I talking to Asaru right now?”

The Ethereal nodded. Laura seemed to have gone misty-eyed.

“I have bonded to Laura Harper.” Asaru spoke in Laura’s voice. “She is a vessel, but I transcend her existence.”

“So, what are you, exactly?” Mira couldn’t help but feel like she was conducting an interview.

“I never learned the name of my kind.” Asaru said. “But I have met other like me, and I learned our history. We prefer to take the names given to us by others. Angels, demons, gods. Ethereal is the most common name. My people are beings of influence. During the time before history, each young world was seeded with one of my kind. We would then pass on our knowledge and wisdom to the people we were chosen to live with. But those days are long since over.”

Mira fumbled the record button on her tablet.

“Where do Ethereals come from? Do you have a Homeworld?”

Asaru and Laura both shook their heads.

“Our people have been scattered in diaspora for over one million years. Driven from our origins by the organism you now know as the Beast. All knowledge of exactly where we came from is long since lost.”

A thought occurred to Mira.

“You said you bonded to Harper, does that mean the Elders…”

Asaru and Laura nodded together.

“A small collective of our kind discovered an ancient race of beings who possessed great Psionic potential.” Asaru explained. “Aside from the group you and your allies have since defeated, a meeting of our kind is quite rare. All I have learned comes from a chance encounter with another like me.”

“And you’ve been linked to Laura the entire time?”

“No.” Laura clarified. “I’ve only been bonded to Asaru for the past twenty-and-a-half years or so. He was somewhere else in the interim.”

Laura’s tone of voice shifted ever so slightly as Asaru took over and finished her response:

“I first bonded to a man named William Carter, helped him build XCOM into the organization it is now. Then I bonded to Myron Faulke, Laura’s predecessor as XCOM’s Commander. Like my brothers and sisters on other worlds, I gave them wisdom and knowledge, and in return, they gave me physical form and strength.”

Mira had another question:

“So there are Ethereals on other worlds, guiding people? You’re not all like the ones we had to fight?”

Again, a nod.

“The Elders of ADVENT were outliers, and not reflective of my people as a whole.” Asaru answered. “But we are no longer the hidden guides and guardians we started out as. I daresay we’re close to extinction now.”

“Why?”

Laura pointed towards the Eastern wall.

“Akira.” Asaru said. “She’s been giving various species throughout history the knowledge and technology to capture, enslave, and kill my people. Vanians, Zudjari, Taiidan, even the Progenitors themselves hunted us to the brink of extinction. There was an Ethereal on your world, Mihaka, long before any of us were born. Akira killed him.”

Mira dropped her tablet.

“There was an Ethereal on Partoga!?”

Laura/Asaru nodded.

“He was like me: A force of influence.” Asaru confirmed. “You knew him by such names as the great Queen Whetu Kealoha, the wise councilor Maui Ranginui, the intrepid explorer Takua Tamihana, and as the great warrior Tantomile. Like myself, his guidance and influence were so subtle that it was nearly impossible to detect.”

This only caused more questions to fill Mira’s head, and she didn’t know which one to ask first.

“So who’s idea was it to use the Time Core in the Trinity? You or…”

But Mira never got to finish her question, as the situation changed suddenly and abruptly!

It all happened at once! Like a scene from an Old World cartoon, Asaru was suddenly sucked down into Laura’s body, merging with her and vanishing completely from view! Simultaneously, Mira and Laura both felt a sense of torpor beginning to overtake them, as though their blood was suddenly made from grease! Laura gasped, then dashed over to an opening in the Ark Angel’s hull and shouted to the AFUNE soldiers below:

“BLACKOUT!”

Deprived of her powers again, Mira shared Laura’s sense of panic as soldiers passed the message along until loud shouting began outside of the hangar! Mira took one last look at Laura. The former XCOM Commander had her arms outstretched as though she was trying to raise a Psionic shield.

“The second I get my powers back,” Laura gasped, “I’ve gotta lock Akira out of the site!”

“I’ll make sure she doesn’t get close!”

Without waiting for approval, Mira jumped out of the Ark Angel and made for the exits.



Sprinting as fast as her legs could carry her, Mira made it onto the runway about twenty seconds after the Psionic blackout began! Around her, soldiers, battle tanks, and armed androids were converging on one specific point in the line! She could hear men and women shouting to one another as they took up position:

“Thirty seconds since blackout!” an officer shouted.

“No eyes on hostile!” A Sergeant relayed. “Keep your guns on that terminal building!”

Forty seconds since blackout! Mira took up a position near an XCOM Ranger, keeping one hand at the ready to summon his sword.

Then, just as quickly as it had started, the blackout was over! The air shimmered in front of the line of soldiers as Laura re-established her Psionic shields, enveloping the hangar and its defenders in a protective energy!

“This is it!” A captain yelled. “Any second now!”

A tense moment passed… and nothing happened.

Another moment went by… and then the air stopped shimmering. Laura’s shield was now in place, and Akira had missed her chance to try and punch through. All around Mira, soldiers lowered their weapons and looked around, puzzled. Then, someone pointed to the nearby terminal!

“There she is!”

The quickest flurry of movement drew the most aggressive response! All around Mira, nearly four hundred soldiers opened fire! Tens of thousands of gauss rounds, laser bolts, and plasma blasts rocketed down the runway and converged on a spot just in front of the terminal building! The incredible hailstorm of weapons fire only stopped when everybody ran out of ammunition. In the chaos, Mira telekinetically summoned a sword from a nearby ranger. Gripping it tightly in both hands, she made ready for a fight!

After a few moments, the firestorm ceased as soldiers dropped their empty magazines and checked their weapons.

“God-damn.” A colonel spoke sarcastically. “You think you got her?”

Down the runway, the smoke cleared, and Mira saw what had drawn so much weapons fire. A Psionic Ghost was slowly walking towards the battle line. The translucent human-shaped shadow kept its hands raised, palms out, to show it wasn’t combative. Once it drew closer, Mira realized that Akira had created a Psi Ghost out of one of the two UN soldiers she had killed earlier today, and was now using it to approach the line without being injured.

Akira’s doppelganger reached the perimeter of Laura’s Psionic shield and stopped, just a few feet away from Mira. The spectral image didn’t have a face, but Mira got the very distinct impression she was making eye contact with Akira herself. The Paradox’s voice came out of the Psi Ghost:

“You look different, Mira. The Hybrid body suits you.”

“You ditched XCOM as soon as I defected.” Mira counted. “And now you’re fighting them. What caused the change of heart?”

“The Time Core.” Akira replied. “They can’t have it.”

“Right,” Mira tightened her grip on her sword. “You just want it back so you can ditch this Cycle and head to the next one, right?”

The shadow of Akira put its hands on its hips and shook its head.

“No, no, nothing like that.” Akira replied. “I’m only a few small changes and one really big change away from the Perfect Future. We’ve almost accomplished our mission, Mira.”

“Not my mission anymore.” Mira spat. “I’ve seen what your ‘big changes’ are like. I’m not letting you do anything like that here on Earth!”

Akira seemed to get agitated.

“All these years later, Mihaka, and you still don’t get it.” Akira voice changed pitch. It was far less cordial now. “The future is not something we can have for free. Somebody has to pay the price for it. Sooner or later.”

All around the two of them, UN soldiers were loading their weapons and preparing for another volley of fire. Sensing that the conversation was about to be cut short, Akira addressed the group at large:

“All I want is to live in a timeline were everyone is happy and safe; what does it matter how we get there as long as we actually get there?”

Mira started to raise her sword.

“How we get there makes all the difference in the world.” Mira declared. “I refuse to sacrifice innocent people who’ve done nothing wrong just because I want a better life!”

Mira grabbed the handle of her sword in both hands!

“And no one here is going to help you build your personal paradise on the bones of their ancestors and the blood of their children!”

Mira swung the sword down with all of her strength, amplifying the blow with Psionic energy! She cleaved the Ghost’s head from its shoulders! Like smoke in the wind, the specter of Akira dispersed and vanished, but not before leaving one last Psionic message implanted in Mira’s mind:

You need to find Jericho’s first love, Mira. He is the key. The key to the Trinity!

Behind her, with a loud roar, a UN spaceplane began to thunder down the runway! It was the same class of spacecraft as the Ark Angel, a Battlemaster-class Gunship. Two Triple Alliance starfighters descended from the clouds and moved into a position to escort the spaceplane into the sky, while down on the ground, Mira watched the ship depart in silence for a few minutes before turning to re-enter the hangar. Laura Harper and several UN soldiers were still in the building. They cheered happily and high-fived on another as the celebratory mood overtook them.

“I take it the Time Core is gone?” Mira asked.

Laura nodded and offered Mira a drink from a flask, which she politely declined.

“A little thanks to you for keeping Akira busy.” Laura said. “Chief Shen and her android have the Core in their possession now, and they’re taking it to the Trinity construction site.”

“Good.” Mira replied. “Please don’t tell me where it is.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t.”



Tuesday, February 18, 2036 – 1:00pm
L2 Lagrange Point of Venus, Sol System, United Nations of Earth



The spaceplane broke orbit with Earth and started to fly towards a point in space where a project of immense scale was being worked on.

Hidden in the shadow of Venus was a space station, one of such size and scale that very few people on Earth could conceive. The station itself was incomplete. So far, all that existed was a hollow frame, surrounded by scaffolding. Thousands of spaceships, ranging from the smallest pods to full-sized motherships flitted around the structure, moving construction materials to their final destination before moving off to collect more.

Ramming frigates and tugboats moved back and forth between the construction site and Venus’ other Lagrange points, where Trojan asteroids were being harvested for extra resources. Meanwhile, a Levakian Battlecruiser broke formation with the large defense fleet and moved to intercept the Human spaceplane as it approached.

Inside of the spaceplane’s cockpit, Lily Shen ordered her android to take the controls while she made contact with the approaching warship. Over the speakers, Lily heard the low growl of a lion speaking in the Galactic Common. Fortunately, Julian was on hand to translate:

“Attention incoming UNE vessel, this is Commodore Munkustrap the LVK Mami Tamihana. Identify yourself, transmit recognition codes, and state your business.”

“Uh, yes sir! Transmitting now.” Lily replied. “This is the FS Normandy of the United Nations Navy, transporting High Value Object One to the construction site.”

After a moment, the commander of the Mami Tamihana replied.

“Acknowledged. I see you on my schedule and my scanners confirm your cargo. We will escort you to docking bay 15, where a team of Kelt engineers are awaiting your orders.”

As the communication was terminated, Julian turned his head and said to Lily:

“According to my calculations, a spaceborne structure like this should have taken between twenty-five and thirty years to build.”

“You’d be surprised what people are capable of when they have a gun to their head.” Lily replied. “When we’re faced with the end of civilization, our backs against the wall, and there’s just not enough time… that’s when true wonders are built.”


Caption said:
The Psionic superweapon Trinity is seen under construction in the Sol system. This picture is slightly erroneous. Trinity orbits Venus, not the Sun.
 
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HistoryDude

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AFUNE wants to weaponize the Time Core? If they do that, won't they be no better than Akira?

Tantomile was an Ethereal? That's a Wham Line...

Also, the Whetu that was with Paradox and died in Faith in Chaos wasn't bonded to an Ethereal, correct?

Go, Mira! Talk smack with Akira...

Why does Paradox think Mira will listen to her?

Also, about why Asuna's been changed... is it possible Akira's preparing herself another body? Have we ever actually seen Akira's unit psionic power? And if we haven't, perhaps it allows body swapping somehow, like Mira's does? Or it allows her to copy psionic powers, and she copied Mira's?
 

Macavity116

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AFUNE wants to weaponize the Time Core? If they do that, won't they be no better than Akira?
This is a damn good concern to raise. We haven't seen much yet, but it looks like AFUNE is planning to use the Time Core in a much, much more destructive capacity than Akira ever did.


Tantomile was an Ethereal?
Nope. She was a Levakian, but she did have an Ethereal bonded to her for roughly half of her life. It provided her with guidance, knowledge, and occasional wisdom. Akira ensured the Ethereal died with Tantomile during the Battle of Aoraki.


Also, the Whetu that was with Paradox and died in Faith in Chaos wasn't bonded to an Ethereal, correct?
Quite correct. During her Cycle, the Ethereal bonded to Whetu had moved on to a new host before she joined forces with Akira.


Why does Paradox think Mira will listen to her?
Akira was being manipulative by intentionally dropping a hint about her endgame for the War in Heaven. She's trying to get Mira to overthink and second-guess about Duane Gardner's role in the final conflict. Akira has plans for him.


Also, about why Asuna's been changed... is it possible Akira's preparing herself another body? Have we ever actually seen Akira's unit psionic power? And if we haven't, perhaps it allows body swapping somehow, like Mira's does? Or it allows her to copy psionic powers, and she copied Mira's?
The Asuna-to-Himawari switch is a long term consequence of Akira's time travel activities. Consider this: According to Mira's Human History Database, Asuna was born on the same day as the War in Heaven itself. Changing when Blake and Chihiro had their first child will almost certainly change the circumstances of any future children. Which means... There is now a very real possibility that Akira has cancelled out the existence of a future incarnation of herself.


As for Akira's unique Psionic power? We haven't seen her use it since Interlude 4 of Faith in Chaos.

This is because Akira's unique power is a (metaphorical) double-edged sword. Using it leaves her weak and vulnerable for several minutes afterward, which means she has learned to use it sparingly and will only employ it during extreme emergencies or serious duress.

Here's my official description of her power, cut and pasted directly from my master list of unique powers:
  • Akira “Paradox” Robinson
    • Abolish
      • Akira destroys all matter and energy in the immediate vicinity. Large blast radius. Comparable to a low-yield nuclear weapon. Afterward, the local fabric of spacetime is permanently damaged and cannot be repaired. Akira herself is temporarily disabled and unable to use other powers until she recovers. Duration of disability ranges from 10 to 15 minutes depending on how much matter/energy was destroyed.


PS: I do like the "Copy psionic powers" idea you discussed. Interestingly, according to my master list, that power has already been assigned to another character... a character that is going to make their first appearance next week! You're getting in my head! ;)
 
Chapter 34: An Overdue Reckoning

Macavity116

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Well, this is a very busy chapter!

First and foremost, I want to extend warm thanks to Youtube commentor "Andreas Everaerts" for helping me fix a continuity error in the Ranginui family tree, which you'll be seeing later in this chapter.

Aside from that, this chapter is just rolling with references to my favorite movies! Can you spot the references to:
  • Star Trek: First Contact
  • Castle in the Sky
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Independence Day
======




Chapter Thirty-Four
An Overdue Reckoning


Caption said:
The PLS Mahuika (left) engages the Beast Mothership in direct combat (Distant right) over the skies of Partoga during the final months of the Second Hyperspace War. The last remnants of the Partogan Defense Fleet can be seen swarming around the enemy. The Mahuika's heavy Ion Cannon beam is being visibly deflected by the enemy's Psionic Shields.

Saturday, March 31, 2036 - 4:00pm
Trecta Star System, Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth, The Great Wastelands




“How many ships?”

“One. It’s on a direct course for the Capitol.”

“This is Admiral Ririnui of the Home Defense Fleet. All ships, fall in on my position!”

“Hyperspace signature detected. Megalith-class vessel on approach.”

“I confirm. Beast Mothership is in-system.”

“Home Defense Fleet in place, sir.”

“All ships, polarize armor and power up main weapons! Standby to engage the Beast Mothership on my signal!”

“Distance to target: fifty-thousand Kios. Forty-thousand. Thirty. The enemy is powering weapons!”

“Partogan parts will join us! We are legion!”

“All ships! Open fire!”

“We’re hit! We’re hit! Losing stabilizer control!”

“Power down to 40 percent, sir!”

“They’ve broken through the defensive perimeter!”

“Infection beam! Evasive maneuvers!”

“This is the Onua! Nuclear power plant is melting down! We’re abandoning ship!”

“It’s coming through the hull! Get to the escape pods!”

“Command, this is Task Force Muaka, we need reinforcements!”

“Our escort just turned on us, we need help over here!”

“47 dead, 30 wounded on the Tuyet!”

“We’re losing ground!”

“Main power offline! We have no weapons!”

“Give me ramming speed now!”

“We have a Hyperspace Signature! IT’S ONE OF OURS!”

“Attention all ships, this is Admiral Ranginui of the Mahuika! I’m taking command of the fleet! Activate your defense fields and fall back to our position!”



Amidst all of this chaos, the Kakama disengaged Hyperspace. The moment we re-materialized, there was a jarring impact as our ship ran into a piece of wreckage. In all four of the Radiation Shelters, Manako’s voice rang out over the intercom:

“Go directly to battle stations! Engage the Cloaking Sail!”

Dolim, Temirzhan, Adil, Yukiko, Sarah, and I all reported to our duty stations at the base of the Cloaking Sail, and after a just a few moments, we had rendered the Kakama invisible to both radiating sensors and the naked eye. The chamber containing the sail started to get very hot as more and more energy was shunted to the device.

Maneuvering around combatants and debris alike, both the Partogan fleet and the Beast Mothership failed to detect us as we slipped through the main battle, turned around once we were solidly behind the Partogan lines, and transmitted a message to the Mahuika.

“Attention Mahuika!” Kailani transmitted. “This is the Assault Frigate Kakama. We have arrived in sector 116 and request targeting data!”

While we waited for a response, Manako gave the order to open fire on a nearby Destroyer which had been on our side until just a few moments ago. The Partogan destroyer was so freshly infected that I could still see flesh, sinew, and muscle growing into place along its hull.

“Drop the cloak!” I called out!

Yukiko and Sarah threw a heavy lever that cut off power to the Cloaking Sail while Dolim, Temirzhan, and Adil both extended a series of radiators, bleeding the excess heat into space. At the exact moment our ship became visible, Manako barked into the intercom:

“Launch tube one!”

The starboard torpedo tube in the Kakama’s nose made an ominous noise as its operator reported back to us:

“Depressurizing the tube!” Hal reported. “Torpedo on-line! Opening door! Aaannnd… LAUNCH!”

The whole ship shuddered as the torpedo exited the tube, engine burning at full thrust! The projectile changed course and started speeding towards the infected destroyer, while back at the Kakama, my team was working to re-engage the Cloaking Sail as quickly as possible!

“We’re going dark!”

The torpedo struck the enemy destroyer and punched right through its fleshy armor, embedding itself deep within the vessel before detonating in a spectacular eruption of flame and blood! We all cheered so loudly that we almost missed the Mahuika’s response to our hails:

Mahuika calling Kakama. Is that you in the cloaking field?”

Manako took the microphone from Kailani. He was so happy to hear his sister’s voice again.

“Affirmative, that’s us you’re looking at!” He replied. “Tell us how we can help!”

“Royal Star Command tells me the situation is untenable!” Makara informed us. “We don’t have the firepower to put a dent in the Mothership. I’ve called for the Tryna. They’re on their way here now. We’re going to try and hold out until Tryna gets here, but we need to make sure the Beast doesn’t decapitate us! You go down to Partoga! Evacuate her Majesty and the Government to somewhere safe!”

“On it!” Manako finished. “Helm! Set a course for the Homeworld at maximum speed! Drop the Cloak and put all power in the engines!”

As the Kakama broke from the main battle and sped towards the Partogan Homeworld, we could hear the distinct radio chatter of Partoga’s last best hope for survival:

“This is HMS Tryna. We are engaging Hyperspace and powering up the Wrath Cannon. Prepare for our arrival.”

Behind us, the Beast Mothership, roughly the size of a Jovian Moon, continued to smash its way through the Partogan defense fleet.



Visonia, Near Fort Miranda, Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth


Oh, man. What I would give to see Partoga in peacetime.

Watching out my window, I could see that we were approaching the smaller of two brown continents. As we drew nearer, I realized that nearly the entire western half of this landmass was covered in urban cityscape. Through an obscuring wall of smoke and flames, I could see great flashes of light and blooming flowers of sparks marking the sites of intense urban warfare. Sickly splotches of brown and red masses could be seen taking up whole city blocks, while above us, massive orbital installations had begun the slow and inevitable decent towards the planet, leaving a trail of acrid black smoke in the air.

“Oh, no.” Adil breathed as he joined me at the window. “Partoga!”

“We all have friends down there.” Temirzhan told me.

“I thought the Commonwealth was supposed to be some kind of military superpower.” I said. “How did the Beast make it all the way to their Capitol?”

“Any nation can become exhausted after twenty years of war.” Dolim answered. “When all of the money is spent, all of the experienced soldiers killed, and all of the advanced weapons expended, even the strongest of nations can fall.”

Elsina’s voice sounded over the intercom.

“Attention! We’ve just made contact with Royal Star Command! They’ve authorized us to evacuate her Majesty the Queen and her government to the Positive Control Point! Both her Majesty and the National Assembly are at Fort Miranda! The installation is under heavy Beast attack! We’re going to get in, grab the targets, and get out as quick as we can! Team Tarakava, Team Manas, Team Takea, and Stormbreaker Squad, report to the deployment bay immediately!”



Inside of the ship’s deployment bay, twenty-five Triple Alliance soldiers and six XCOM operatives readied for battle. Sarah Harris and Yukiko Takahashi joined us at the last second, bringing our number up to eight.

“Takahashi, can you even still fight?” Kathleen asked.

“I’m old, not senile!” Yukiko snapped. “Give me a weapon already!”

Dolim equipped my squad with laser rifles and plasma pistols, then stood aside as Manako Ranginui, armed with laser weapons and a heavy suit of powered armor, clambered on top of a large crate so that everybody could see him.

“Soldiers!” he shouted. “We’ve got word that the landing zone is hot! Beast-infected forces are fighting their way through the walls of Fort Miranda!”

Dolim spoke loudly to get everyone’s attention:

“I say this every time we fight the Beast, and someone always forgets, so listen up for once! The Beast will spread just like any viral infection! You must avoid physical contact with infected people at all costs! And most importantly of all, if you encounter any of our own people who have become infected, DO NOT HESITATE TO PULL THE TRIGGER ON THEM. Trust me, you’ll be doing them a favor.”

Kailani’s voice rang out from the ceiling:

“Commander, we’re two minutes from the drop zone! Sensors show eighty infected on site! Mixed force of Partogans, Levakians, Amadii, Vanians, and Micore droids! Small arms and light weapons only.”

Manako rounded on my team.

“Time to see how you Humans shape up against the Beast! Robinson, Jericho, you and your folks are taking point with me. We’re going to set up a beachhead at the drop zone, then fight our way to the Command Center. That’s where the Queen is! We get her and the National Assembly, pull them out, and take off!”

“Thirty seconds!” Kailani called out. “The Green Guard knows you’re coming! They’ll meet you in the middle! Dropping the ramp now!”

A jarring impact caused all of us to sway on our feet! The Kakama had landed! A powerful rush of cold wind filled the deployment bay as the ramp began to descend! I got my first breath of Partogan air in that moment: It was crisp and chilly, like a morning snowfall in late autumn. Then, I picked up the smell of smoke. The boarding ramp fell all the way open, and I saw the battlefield in front of us.

On our left, a horde of monsters and abominations were throwing themselves against a huge concrete wall. There was a narrow breach where a small group of Partogans and Levakians were fighting back with laser rifles. On our right, I could see a lone mountain occupying the southern horizon. It rose higher than any mountain I’d ever seen before, so high up that its summit seemed to just vanish into the sky.

And then the roar of gunfire brought me back into reality! Two dozen Triple Alliance soldiers and eight Humans surged down the ramp and onto the grassy plains of Partoga, meeting the enemy in a headlong assault! Reepi Imvu and a squadron of Vanians took flight, circling above our advancing team and raining Soulfire down on the enemy below!

“Move forward!” Manako yelled!

Charging across the burned grassland, I quickly spotted the source of our local infestation. An infected super-capitol ship (probably a destroyer or cruiser) had crashed into the ground about five hundred yards away, its hull riddled with laser burns and mass driver impacts. Beast-subverted crew members were pouring out of the hull breaches and had scattered in all directions, spreading the virus as far and wide as possible.

“Jericho!” I yelled, pointing at the infected ship!

Reaching towards the infected vessel with one hand, Jericho closed her fist! Metal groaned and sparks flew as the subverted ship was crushed into the ground by sheer force of will! Reepi and several Vanians flew low over the wreck and bombarded it with Psionics while the Stormbreaker Squad turned its attention to the breach in Fort Miranda’s wall.

“We’ve got friendlies up on the high ground!” Soylent reported. “And a whole sea of hostiles between them and us!”

“Form wedge!” I ordered. “Gimme overlapping fields of fire! Psionics up front!”

Jericho and Yukiko both moved to the front of our formation, blasting infected Levakians out of our path with telekinesis. Jericho gave the diplomat a surprised look.

“How long have you been Gifted?”

“Longer than you’ve been alive, kid!” Yukiko snapped. “Watch your left!”

Yukiko blasted an infected Partogan with so much force that the laser cannon grafted onto its shoulder broke free and spun in the air for several seconds before hitting the muddy ground. Jericho opened up a wide Psionic Rift that swallowed a dozen enemies whole before closing again!

Now we’d finally gotten the enemy’s attention! Infected soldiers rounded on us and opened fire with a wide array of weapons! My squad all scrambled for what little cover the area offered while Yukiko and Jericho covered our rear Further along our right flank, Manako dispelled a Psionic attack with one hand and used the free one to make a call on his radio:

“Fire support, now!”

Reepi and his Vanian teammates made another low pass on the enemy, dropping so much Soulfire on the infected that I had a brief flashback to the napalm attacks in southern Japan! Blue and purple flames rose up to the same height as the walls of Fort Miranda! The inferno swirled into a great tornado of supernatural flames, which darted from right to left, incinerating the enemy with extreme prejudice before suddenly dissipating! As the last of the Soulfire was extinguished, I heard Jericho scream:

“BLACKOUT!”

Psionics were down. It was time for some old-fashioned brute force.

“Ranginui!” I shouted. “Cover us while we move!”

“We’ve got you covered, Humans!” Manako replied.

Manako, Adil, Temirzhan, Arzhang Pahlevan, Elsina, and Dolim all broke cover, raised their weapons, and started firing as fast as they could pull the trigger! Underneath a rolling barrage of laser weapons fire, the Stormbreakers began pushing forward! Half a dozen Partogans and Levakians were still defending the breach in the wall. They shifted their fire to cut down the enemies at our sides while we focused our fire forward! The laser rifle in my hands started to get really hot as I laid on the trigger like there was no tomorrow!

No two infected were exactly alike. Cybernetic devices had grown in place on the bodies of each Beast victim we cut down. Some were weapons, like laser or plasma cannons. Others were scanning devices or communications arrays, but there was one thing every infected person had in common: Their faces (what little of them remained) had been permanently locked into an expression of incredible pain and agony.

It wasn’t enough to shoot the enemy once or twice. To make absolutely certain that the virus had been neutralized, the body of each infected person had to be completely destroyed, which was why we were all armed with laser and plasma weapons. As my team advanced towards the wall of Fort Miranda, we left behind a trail of smoke, flames, and ashes.

Just twenty feet from our goal, the Blackout ended! Yukiko unleashed her full wrath on the Beast, opening up a Psionic Rift that swallowed several monsters whole while Jericho incinerated the remainder with Soulfire! Then, finally, we were over the top and inside of Fort Miranda!

The Triple Alliance defenders looked exhausted and worn out, but happy to see any kind of relief. Manako and the rest of Team Takea followed us through the breach a moment later.

“Soldier, what happened here!?” Manako demanded of one of the defenders.

A soldier pointed to the sky.

“After that damned Megalith showed up, it fired a bunch of cruise missiles at our defense fleet!” He told us. “A lot of our super-capitols were hit and they turned on us. Some of them turned around and headed straight for Partoga.”

“Infected ships started crashing themselves all over the planet!” Another soldier said. “We’ve got pockets of the virus in Partoga City, the Mangaia, Visonia, the Broken Islands, Kaitaia, and Tauranga! It’s getting really bad. Do you have any orders from up top?”

“We’re here to evacuate the Queen.” Manako answered. “Where is she?”

One of the defenders pointed towards a canyon that split the otherwise gentle grassy hills. Running from southeast to northwest, I could make out that the canyon was narrow, but from here, I couldn’t see any other details.

“When the enemy showed up, we moved her to the Aetherium mine on the south side for her own safety. I can call a gunship to take you straight there.”

“Do it.” Manako ordered. Then he rounded on my team. “Humans, you’re coming with us. I’m fairly certain my grandmother will want to meet you.”





Archer’s Canyon, Near Fort Miranda, Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth


An Assurian gunship arrived to take us to Archer’s Canyon. Tsubaki absolutely hated the idea of flying into a narrow canyon at high speeds and insisted on sitting as far away from the windows as possible. Soylent had seen his fair share of canyons in his Australian homeland and wasn’t really interested in this one. Ultimately, it was Kathleen, Manako, and I who got to sit in the engineer’s jumpseats in the cockpit, where we had the best possible view of the canyon as our little gunship began to descend into the depths!

There is a canyon in Tibet that is over 18,000 feet deep. Some people call it the deepest on Earth. Well, as it turned out, the Queen of the Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth had decided to hide in the deepest canyon on her own planet… and this place blows Yarlung Tsangpo out of the water! Archer’s Canyon is deep. Very, very deep.

After only a minute of descending into the narrow abyss, I noticed that we were losing our sunlight. When the Assurian pilot tried to contact Queen Kendra’s escorts, he had to use an ultra-high frequency signal, and even then, the reception was terrible.

“Commander Ranginui, the Green Guard says her Majesty and the National Assembly are safe in their bug-out locations.” The pilot informed us. “However, there was some kind of cave-in. Triggered by the crash of the infected super-capitol up above. Your father reports that his team is still analyzing the situation.”

“Tell him we’ll help however we can.” Manako replied.

Kathleen gave Manako a curious look.

“Ya know, I’m a wee bit curious.” Kathleen said. “You mentioned before that your grandmum is the Queen. Does that make your pap a prince? Are you royalty, too?”

Manako rolled his eyes

“I’m not a prince.” He said, “Nor is my father.”

“But I thought your grandmum was the Queen,” Kathleen argued. “Shouldn’t that make her son-”

Manako shook his head.

“My father is a Ranginui. I’m related to her Majesty through my mother, not him.”

“Oh!” Kathleen was trying hard to make sense of Partoga’s royal family. “So that means your further down the line of succession, then?”

“Huh?” Manako wasn’t following.

“I mean, who’s next in line once your grandmum passes on? Does your mum have a brother?”

“She has two brothers.” Manako answered. “And I don’t know how Queens work on your world, but here, we don’t mess about with lines of succession. We have the Royal Election.”

“Hang on!” I said. “So, some random stranger could become Queen? What about you and your family?”

The Assurian pilot laughed.

“Hey, Human!” he chortled. “You know you’re talking to the next head of the Enoka Branch, right? He’ll be fine.”

I looked back at Manako. He shrugged and explained further:

“The Ranginui family is one of the oldest and most powerful clans on Partoga. We have six major branches, each one the decedents of a son or daughter of the great Maui Ranginui: Enoka, Taonga, Rawiri, Aketu, Urepo, and Irirangi. My father is the eldest of the Enoka branch, and since we married into the Royal Family, we’ve done quite well. I expect we’ll do just as well if we can survive this war.”


Caption said:
A family tree chart showing how the Enoka branch of the Ranginui family relates to the Partogan Royal family. You may need to click on the picture to view the full sized version and read all of the details.

It should be noted that there are two Queens of Partoga on this tree. Mami Tamihana is the current Queen, while Pipi Munu reigned from 1814 until 1858 under the name "Phoebe the First."

**Credit to Youtube commentor "Andreas Everaerts" for helping put together the final version of the Ranginui tree!**
We only had to spend a few more minutes navigating the narrow darkness of Archer’s Canyon before we reached our destination. The bottom of the Canyon was very poorly lit, as though the sun had just disappeared below the horizon. A fast-moving river thundered along the canyon floor, while dirt roads could be found on either side of the waterway. As we emerged from the gunship, Tsubaki looked up and around at the Canyon walls that seemed to just vanish into the sky above.

“Screw this.” Tsubaki murmured to herself. “I’m walking back to Earth.”

Manako ordered Team Takea to leave their rifles in the Gunship.

“Best you do the same, Humans.” Elsina said. “If those reports of a cave-in are accurate, we’re about to have a lot of heavy lifting on our hands.”

Manako, Elsina, Arzhang, Adil, Temirzhan, Dolim, Jericho, Kathleen, Tsubaki, Hal, Soylent, Yukiko, Sarah, and I all stepped towards a stone archway that marked the entrance to a mine shaft, burrowed deep into the canyon wall. The lioness took the lead.

“Follow me.” Elsina told us.

Putting her nose to the ground, the Levakian began to move down the tunnel in exactly the way an Earth lioness moves when she’s on the hunt. We followed Elsina into the darkness, with only flashlights to keep us oriented the right way.

The stone and rock surrounding us in the Aetherium mine was blacker than obsidian, which gave me the distinct feeling that the walls were going to start closing in at any moment. Over the noise of our own shuffling feet, I could distinctly hear voices coming from further down the tunnel, and just barely make out a distant source of light.

“Father!” Manako yelled down the tunnel! “Grandmother! Can you hear me!?”

After a moment, a man’s voice echoed up the path towards us.

“Son! We’re here! I hope you brought some extra hands!”

The tunnel curved once more and opened up on a massive cavern, complete with an underground lake. I couldn’t see much else because the light in here was actually overwhelming! I had to squint my eyes for a moment before one of the Partogans in the cavern barked at us:

“Turn those damn flashlights off! We’ve got plenty of light in here already!”

We complied, killing our flashlights. After just a few moments, my Hyper-Reactive Pupils kicked into high gear. The Meld-based Genetic Modification allowed me to adapt to the darkness far faster than anyone else, and I gasped as something absolutely incredible slowly came into view!


Caption said:
Aetherium crystals and rock formations, shown to glow in low-light environments. Crystals made from this high-energy element are often used to safely contain and store Psionic energy.
It was as though we’d stepped off the surface of the planet entirely and suddenly began drifting through a starfield! Thousands of eerie white and blue lights were scattered around us in all directions, including below! Crystal formations and large sections of rock were glowing, putting out a warm, gentle light that illuminated the cavern far better than our flashlights.

Soylent and Kathleen were both disoriented by the sudden change in the light and crashed into one another. Tsubaki lost focus entirely and just wandered around the perimeter of the cave, touching the glowing crystals in a curious way. Hal seemed unnerved by the glowing rocks and murmured something about a Geiger counter. Sarah tapped Temirzhan and asked the question on all of our minds:

“What’s the glowy stuff?”

“It’s Aetherium.” The Assurian replied. “It occurs naturally at the bottom of Archer’s Canyon, as well as other places in the Galaxy, usually deep underground and away from starlight.”

“Before my people discovered electricity, we used Aetherium crystals as a source of light.” Manako told us. “We called them ‘Lightstones’ back then, but we’ve learned so much more about Aetherium since then.”

Looking around the cavern, I could see evidence of a Partogan mining operation that had clearly once existed here. Minecart tracks ran through the middle of the cave, past the underground lake, and into another tunnel that led in another direction. Some kind of platform had been built near the water’s edge, and I could see the foundations of what had clearly been some kind of station or outpost a very long time ago. On the far side of the cavern, there was a large campsite, where some sixty or seventy Partogans, Levakians, and Vanians had erected small tents. Dozens of these so-called “Lightstones” had been gathered together into piles to illuminate the camping area. Judging from how the occupants looked, and by the fact that the ground had only recently been turned over, I guessed that these people had only been hiding in the cave for a day or two. Definitely not longer than 72 hours.

“I see what you mean.” I commented out loud. “All the light and heat of a campfire without burning anything. I see a lot of applications for this stuff.”

“No! That’s not what he means!” Jericho cut in.

While Manako went off to speak with the people we had come to rescue, Jericho grabbed me by the shoulder and dragged me towards a particularly large growth of Aetherium crystals. Using her immense Muton strength, Jericho grabbed a crystal stalagmite in one hand and wrenched it out of the ground. Holding it out to me in both hands, Jericho pressed the crystal into my grip.

The first thing I noticed was just how warm this stuff was! It was like grabbing a teapot that had just boiled recently and wasn’t quite cooled down yet. Reflexively, I loosened my grasp, and the Aetherium almost fell to the cave floor. Jericho caught it, looked at me and said:

“This is one of the things I need for the Trinity back home. Elerium, that’s the stuff the Elders used in a lot of their tech, right? Well it’s a Psionic conductor. All of our Amplifiers are made out of Elerium. Well, Aetherium is a Psionic insulator. Feel it again: That energy has been trapped in this crystal since the day it was formed!”

This time, when I pressed my hand onto the warm rock, I felt a distinct buzzing sensation. In my mind’s eye, I imagined a single ray of light, trapped inside of a prison where all of the walls, floor, and ceiling were made from mirrors; leaving that light to bounce around inside of its container forever. Then I looked around the whole cave again, and the realization hit me:

Every point of light, every glowing rock or illuminated crystal, was some immeasurable amount of Psionic energy, locked away down here for who knows how long.

“Say…” I breathed slowly. “How much Aetherium does the Trinity need, anyway?”

“About five kilograms.”

“Really? That’s it?”

“It’s for the firing mechanism!” Jericho spoke quickly, she was clearly going down the same line of thought I was. “Imagine you’re using flint and steel to start a fire. My Gift is the steel striker, and this crystal is the piece of flint. If I break this crystal, it’ll release a lot of Psionic energy, see where I’m going with this, Blake? Quick, help me look for a good five-kilogram piece!”

“Right… uh, how much is five Kilograms?” I asked quickly. “In America, we use-”

Jericho clenched her teeth and balled up her fists.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” She moaned.

Taking a deep breath, Jerciho tried again:

“Find a piece about the size of a football.”

We both split up in search, but not before Jericho called over her shoulder:

“An American football!”



I recruited Tsubaki and Soylent to help us search the cave for a suitable sample of Aetherium for the Trinity weapon. Meanwhile, Yukiko joined Manako as he spoke with a small group of people who, I guessed, were the leaders of the Commonwealth government. I spotted a middle-aged Partogan man, another man who seemed to be quite old, two Partogan girls who looked to be around 15 years old, a Levakian cub, and finally, rounding out the group was an incredibly old woman.

Now forgive me for making assumptions, but a full two minutes passed before I noticed a rather important detail about this old lady. At first, I had assumed that she was leaning on some kind of cane while she spoke to Manako and Yukiko, but when I snatched another glance while I was picking up a crystal to inspect, I saw that this woman was not leaning on a cane.

It was a sword.

The blade itself was made of translucent white crystal, and it had a core made from what I immediately recognized as solid Elerium. I was so awestruck by the sight of this (presumably) sweet old lady packing such a weapon that I dropped my Aetherium crystal to the ground with a loud thump! Everybody looked around at me, including a few members of the Commonwealth Government, who had already started to evacuate through the tunnel we had entered from.

The old woman with the sword looked in my direction, and I froze.

She had only one eye. That sight alone sent shivers up my spine, but I couldn’t help but find the woman’s eyepatch to be equally as disturbing. The black fabric had been decorated with a small white symbol. Two white dots were encompassed by a pair of double crescents, while in the exact center of the insignia, a small emerald had been affixed directly onto the eyepatch. It glinted and shimmered in the light, just enough to make it look alive. From where I was standing, I could have sworn that that old woman was some kind of ancient witch, casting an evil spell on me with her magical gaze. The old woman took one hand off her sword hilt and pointed one bony finger at something just over my shoulder and behind me.

“He moemoea tenei?” The woman spoke in a surprisingly strong voice.

Looking over my shoulder, I realized she was pointing at Jericho. She stopped what she was doing and stood still, returning the woman’s gaze. Then both Manako and the old lady gestured for Jericho to approach.

“Haere mai ki ahau.”

Jericho slowly walked across the cavern towards the Partogan leaders. In the low light of the Aetherium crystals, it looked as though she was literally striding between the stars. Manako waved at the rest of the Stormbreakers, and we approached as well. The two teenaged girls and the Levakian cub all whispered to one another excitedly.

The old woman gently touched Jericho’s smooth cheek with her own wrinkled hand.

“Kua mutu te tatari.” The old lady spoke in an awed voice. Then she switched to another language and said: “Aloha. He mea hau’oli ia e hālāwai me’oe.”

It took me a few seconds to realize that this old Partogan was speaking Hawaiian. Jericho must have picked up on this right away, because her expression turned to one of pleasant surprise. The old lady finished by speaking in the Galactic Common:

“Tell me, how was my Hawaiian? It’s been over a century since the last time we spoke.”

Jericho put her right hand over her heart and bent forward in a quick bow, replying:

“Boorish and provincial. You were talking through your nose.”

The old woman leaned her head back and let out a hearty cackle that rang out in the cavern. Jericho turned around and introduced the old woman to the rest of Stormbreaker Squad:

“Guys, this is Toa Wahine Mami Tamihana, Queen of the Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth. But she prefers to be called ‘Kendra.’ She’s the one who organized the Triple Alliance mission to help us out.”

Queen Kendra faced the Stormbreakers and addressed us.

“While I will be most pleased to make your acquaintances, it must wait until a later time. My idiot grandson is insisting I leave this place without first securing our nation’s future!”

“Grandmother!” Manako protested. “We can send a team back later to recover Nomsa and the Conclave later! We need to ensure your own safety first! Without you, there is no Commonwealth!”

“Please, listen to us!” Pleaded the middle-aged man who I guessed to be Manako’s father. “You are our last hope!”

“Wrong!” Kendra jabbed her sword into the ground to emphasize her point. “Without me, there is another hope for our nation, and you’re about to leave her abandoned behind a fucking rockfall!”

“We. Will. Come. Back. For. Nomsa.” Manako said through gritted teeth. “As much as I want to speak to the Conclave, you are more important!”

Let’s be honest here. Manako was both Gifted and physically stronger than old Kendra. He could have picked her up and removed her from this place and there wouldn’t have been a damn thing this old lady could do about it. Yet Kendra had a powerful kind of presence about her, like an aura of personal strength and willpower. By this point, every Stormbreaker, including myself, had read through our Technical and Historical Briefings of Galactic history. We all knew that we were not standing in the presence of an ordinary Queen. This was Kendra, the same woman who, in her youth, had defeated Akira Robinson in a straight fight, stopped a genocidal war, and built a powerful military alliance that allowed her to personally dominate nearly half of the Galaxy before the Beast had ever shown up.

Kendra was not a woman to be messed with.

Instead of trying to argue the point, Kathleen cut to the chase.

“Your Highness,” the former Secret Service Agent said, “Why don’t we go find your friend for you? That way you’ll know she’s safe.”

“Yeah!” Soylent chimed in. “We’ll go find this Nomsa person and the Conclave and bring the whole lot to the Gunship while you get outta here. That way you’ll know they’re bringin’ up the rear.”

Kendra raised one eyebrow at us. She looked intrigued, then cast a glance at Jericho.

“I’ve been working on their team for over a year.” Jericho said. “I can vouch for ‘em. They’re good.”

The old Queen nodded.

“Very well.” She agreed. “But Nomsa’s safety and survival is of paramount importance! I will send a gunship to recover you! Grandson, you must bring the National Assembly and the other three candidates on the next ship! Leave two of your team behind to help the Humans!”

“Temirzhan! Arzhang! Stay here!” Manako ordered.

The younger Assurian and the big flightless Amadii broke from the main group and moved to join us. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Sarah Harris had given Temirzhan a hug as he fell into our ranks. While Manako and the Queen withdrew, the three youngsters I’d spotted earlier stayed close to the Queen, allowing the people I assumed to be the “National Assembly” to proceed through the tunnel first. Manako’s father pointed towards a tunnel entrance on the other side of the cavern and said:

“Nomsa and the Conclave are back there. They were in another cavern, but its caved in. We can hear ‘em on the other side. They’re tryin’ to dig out. Just give ‘em some help!”

Jericho and Yukiko both cracked their knuckles and stepped towards the tunnel entrance.

“Uhg. Lifting rocks.” Jericho grumbled in an annoyed way.

“Preachin' to the choir, kid.” Yukiko replied.

About fifty yards down the tunnel, we found our path blocked by a wall of broken and crumbling boulders and rocks. This was clearly where the cave-in had happened. Jericho and Yukiko used telekinesis to move the boulders while the rest of us set to work on the smaller chunks. Tsubaki’s cybernetic legs allowed her to carry heavier loads than the rest of us, earning a couple of jealous looks.

After about two or three minutes of digging, we could hear shuffling noises from the other side! I pulled a large slab aside and shouted into the rockfall:

“Hello! Can anyone over there hear me!?”

A strangled noise came from the other side! For a few moments, we all froze!

“Is that a kid!?” Hal asked.

“No, it’s a peacock!” Kathleen corrected him. “There must be Vanians back there!”

Arzhang perched himself up near the top of the rockfall, then extended his head and neck through a gap in the stone. Unlike Vanians, members of the Amadii species have more in common with ostriches, a species of flightless bird found on Earth. Right now, Arzhang’s small head and long neck were coming in handy for us. Through the loose pile of rock and stone, I heard Arzhang squawking in the Vanian language. Several birdcalls came back in reply, along with a voice that spoke in the Galactic Common. This new voice I can best compare to that of a human teenager, equal parts annoyed with everything and grateful for any meaningful socialization.

“Oh, thank Tantomile! Hey, you! Get us outta here! If I gotta spend ten more minutes back here with these creeps I will totally kill myself!”

More squawking! It sounded like a whole flock of peacocks was trapped in the other room. Arzhang came back to our side and reported to us:

“They’re using telekinesis to move most of the rockfall, but there isn’t much room back there to relocate boulders. We’ve got to open it up from our end!”

“Guys! Gimme a hand with this one!” I pointed to one particularly large boulder.

Temirzhan, Sarah, and Soylent all squatted down and helped me lift the massive rock out of the way.

“I’m impressed.” Temirzhan said to Sarah. “On Assuria, women only perform labor like this if the men are not available. I’m sure there are no women in the Heartland as strong as you.”

“Thanks, but I got nothing on her.” Sarah admitted, pointing to Jericho.

Jericho had dislodged a similar sized rock without any help. While Yukiko levitated it down the corridor and into the main cavern, we finally opened a gap large enough for fifteen peacocks of varying size and color to take flight! The Vanian Conclave of Telepaths staged their escape down the corridor and out of sight, leaving us behind without a single word of thanks. Following them out of the rockfall was… not what I expected.

It was a lioness, and a very young one at that. There was no way in hell she was older than two years. She had the big paws, chubby body, spotted fur, and oversized ears you would expect to see on a lion cub. But she was far bigger than any bobcat and was well on her way to being roughly the same size as a cougar. The most striking feature about this lioness, however, was her eyes and fur. Even in the low light, I could see that this lioness had the same purple eyes as all of the other Partogans and Gifted Humans I’d met, and her fur was like fresh snow.

“Wow.” Tsubaki gasped. “A white lion, just like in that Old World movie!”

“Sophie Ackermann said she saw a white lion when she lived in Africa.” Soylent commented. “They’re supposed to be really rare!”

The adolescent white lioness sat down in the corridor, licked one of her paws and it used to wipe her face. Then she looked up at us, let out a growl, and said:

“You lot are some of the most messed up lookin’ Partogans I’ve ever seen. What’s up with your eyes? And you, big guy! Who butchered your Tuakiri like that, it’s downright horrible!”

Soylent touched his facial tattoo with one hand and chuckled. Arzhang scoffed.

“Still got that attitude, Nomsa? Nothing’s changed since the last time I saw you.”

The lioness named Nomsa crouched low to the ground, flicked her tail, and waggled her rear like she was about to pounce.

“I learned how to hunt Gukko birds while you were gone, Pahlevan.” She growled. “Wanna see how I do it?”

Temirzhan grabbed Nomsa by the scruff of her neck and started to lead her away.

“Hey!” The lioness meowed. “I was gonna win that fight!

“If you get elected Queen you can fight him all you want.” Temirzhan said. “But right now, we need to get out of here!”

We all followed the Assurian to the exit, and back out to where three Gunships had landed on the canyon floor and were waiting for us. During our exodus Jericho stopped only briefly to grab the Aetherium crystal I’d dropped earlier.

“This’ll do.”



Ascending quickly from the bottom of Archer’s Canyon, our Gunship did not stop at ground level. Instead, it kept ascending higher and higher into the sky until we breached Partoga’s atmosphere and returned to space.

“Where are we going!?” Yukiko shouted to the pilot and pointed at the starboard windows. “The Kakama is over there!”

Our pilot shook his head.

Kakama docked with the Queen’s flagship!” The pilot reported. “We’re on our way there now!”

All around us, the battle above Partoga had taken an unusual turn. The Beast Mothership had arrived in orbit above Partoga itself, while behind it we could see a swirling cloud of wreckage.

“Holy Mother of Miranda!” Manako shouted from the cockpit. “That’s Fort Daxia!”

The Partogan starbase had been reduced to scrap metal. The cloud of debris was so dense that it was blocking out most of the light from the Trecta star itself. The Beast Mothership, meanwhile, was laying waste to the Partogan defense fleet. There were so many derelict hulks between us and our destination that our pilot had to perform a series of complicated maneuvers to avoid colliding with the wreckage! Finally, we came into sight of a Mothership-class vessel.

“That’s where we’re headed!” Manako turned around in his seat to speak to the Stormbreakers. “The flagship of the Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth: The LVK Tantomile!”


Caption said:
The Levakian warship LVK Tantomile is a heavily retrofitted and modified Sajuuk-Khar-class Mothership. The ship class is originally of Vaygr design, and dates back to the Holy Wars and Vaygr Crusades, but the Tantomile was built and launched over the Levakian planet Paku Nui. It became the Partogan flagship after the PLS Mahuika was transferred to the control of the Triple Alliance. Sajuuk-Khar-class Motherships are designed for long-term deep-space combat missions and are capable of operating away from a planet or starbase for up to three years at a time. The "bathtub" configuration of the dorsal hangar bay allows the Tantomile to build, operate, and maintain a large fleet of warships without support.
The Partogan flagship had turned to face the Beast Mothership head-on, presenting a smaller target to the enemy. As our gunship dove into the main hangar bay, I was taken aback by how much of the vessel had been set aside for construction and maintenance of other ships. The Tantomile was like a shipyard with engines, guns, and a Hyperspace Module.

Kendra was waiting for us in the main hangar with Manako. As soon as the gunship’s main door swung open, Nomsa ran across the hangar floor and jumped into the old Queen’s arms, purring and licking her face.

“Everyone clear the hangar!” Manako barked. “We’ve got other ships coming in!”

Temirzhan grabbed Sarah’s hand and called to the Stormbreakers:

“Follow me!”

Dashing all the way to the port side of the hangar, we pushed our way into an observation deck were several dozen crew members were in a similar situation: forced to clear the hangar for emergency landings. In the chaotic crowd, all of the Stormbreakers linked arms with one another to avoid being separated. With nothing to do but wait, we cast our gaze out the window where the main battle was still in progress.

The Beast Mothership’s advance finally seemed to have been halted as the Triple Alliance flagship Mahuika put up one hell of a fight, raking the enemy vessel with ion beams and laser cannon fire. For just a brief moment, it seemed as though the two oversized combatants were at a stalemate… and then… one of the Assurians in the observation bay pointed towards a distant starfield and shouted:

“It’s here! The Tryna is here!”

A third utterly massive warship erupted from Hyperspace! This vessel had a design unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and as soon as I saw it, I joined in the huge cheer that ran along the whole observation deck as everybody celebrated the arrival of Partoga’s most powerful weapon!


Caption said:
The Partogan warship HMS Tryna. This is a Riri Nui-class Planet-Killer, and its primary weapon, the Wrath Cannon, is designed to annihilate entire worlds. Usage against startships was an afterthought. The Tryna itself is over 100 years old. Construction on the vessel began before the 1928 Levakian Uprising, and was only completed after the beginning of the Second Hyperspace War.
As soon as it arrived, the Tryna began to unfold its five arms and it oriented itself into an attack position. The Mahuika fired its engines and moved off, giving the Tryna an unobstructed field of fire. An awed silence fell on the observation deck, and a moment later, we began to hear voices! Someone was piping battle chatter into the room via the intercom!

“Wrath Cannon online. Target selection completed. Requesting authorization to engage the enemy.”

The voice of Queen Kendra sounded over the radio and was piped into our intercom where we could hear it.

Tryna, this is your Queen. Engage and destroy the enemy. Dayword: Taihara. Command word: Asalele. Action word: Ririnui.”

“Copy all. Weapon systems fully charged. The Wrath Cannon is ready to fire. Commencing primary ignition. Weapon engaged. Commencing Delivery.”

A beam of yellow light, no wider than a hair but brighter than the sun, jumped from the Tryna’s weapon aperture and struck the Beast Mothership! The two Megaliths were connected for just a moment by that thin beam!

“Surface impact confirmed.” The Tryna’s commander announced.

The whole of the Tantomile rocked and swayed as everybody on board began to cheer!

“Surface temperature fifteen-twenty-three and climbing. Estimate damage to be catastrophic. Surface temperature seventeen-forty-two and stable. Standby for enemy destruction in five… four… three… two… one…”

“THIS IS IT!” Someone shouted!

Suddenly, the beam of light became wide! Wider than the Tantomile! A vicious pulse ran down the length of the beam and struck the Beast Mothership at the speed of light! Like a nuclear bomb, a flash of white light blinded everybody at once! A shockwave hit the Tantomile and unleashed chaos aboard the ship! Jericho sent a bioelectric pulse through the whole group so that none of us could let go of the others while the ship rocked and swayed dangerously beneath us!

“Did we get ‘em!?” Someone shouted.

“I don’t see anything out there!” A Levakian replied.

“WE KILLED THE BEAST!”

A celebratory cheer rang throughout the mob of assembled soldiers, while over the intercom, we could hear the voice of Manako’s sister. Makara was saying:

“Do you have visual confirmation that the target was destroyed?”

A dark feeling permeated through the air around us. As the cheering died away, I looked around at Jericho. She had gone as white as a sheet. Her eyes wide, Jericho breathed:

“Agamemnon knows. He’s coming!”

And then, the smoke cleared outside, and at the exact same moment we witnessed the horrifying truth, the voice of Makara came over the intercom again!

“ALERT! CANNON HAS FAILED TO DISRUPT THE TARGET!! Beast Mothership is still active and closing fast! All ships return for docking and prepare for Emergency Hyperspace Jump!”

As the mad scramble towards the radiation shelters began, Jericho pulled us all together and Temirzhan led the way!

“This way, shelter’s over here!” Temirzhan yelled above the chaos!

“Hurry!” Jericho screamed. “Agg is almost here!”

Following a crowd of Kelt and Amadii, we piled into the first radiation shelter we found, pushing and shoving to make sure we could all fit inside. Above our heads, a serene computerized voice spoke in the Galactic Common:

“Emergency Hyperspace Jump in – thirty – seconds.”

Temirzhan slammed the lead-lined door shut, sealing us all inside of the radiation shelter. Then, Jericho suddenly grabbed her head with both hands and screamed!

“HE’S HERE!”

It happened all at once. All two hundred Humans, Vanians, Assurians, Partogans, Kelt, and Levakians inside of that shelter suddenly felt an agony unlike any other! Agamemnon was forcing its way into all of our minds at the same time! I felt the Psionic intrusion and summed up as much willpower as I could, desperate to resist!

“Jericho! Takahashi!” I shouted. “Block him out! Get that thing out of our heads!”

“I can’t!” Jericho screamed. “I’m blacking out!”

“No Gift!” Yukiko added. “Nothing we can do!”

Agamemnon’s consciousness forced its way into mine with all the force of a battering ram! Similar gasps and shrieks all over the shelter told me that the same thing was happening to everybody else! With Jericho and Yukiko’s powers disabled, and all of the Vanians similarly incapacitated, there was nothing we could do to defend ourselves!

Against my will, images, patterns, and thoughts came to mind. Agamemnon sifted and sorted through my memories like a cop searching for evidence. And then, using knowledge extracted from the minds of dozens of people, the Beast drew a series of connections…

Jericho… a self with unimaginable psionic power… desirable… the Galaxy is slowly starting to rally around her name and power… makes her even more desirable… Jericho’s people are building a new type of weapon… what an attractive thought… the weapon is being built near Earth, a world filled with billions of beings, nearly a dozen sentient species, and incredible levels of genetic diversity… salivation… hunger… Earth is clearly a feast waiting to happen! A feast that will only grow bigger and sweeter as time goes on, as the new weapon is built. Hunger… more salivation… so… so much food, and such a wonderful dessert to be found in the Jericho self.

The Beast withdrew from everyone’s minds at once! Above our head, the serene computerized voice said:

“Emergency Hyperspace Jump engaged. Coordinates to the Aoraki Positive Control Point locked in.”

“NO!!” Jericho screamed! “STOP! We’ve gotta go to Earth!! We have to go home now!”

The only reply was a quantum wavefront washing over the Tantomile, plunging the ship into Hyperspace.







So, what happened to Partoga after we left?

Jericho, Manako, and Yukiko all said that they sensed a “powerful Psionic entity” pass near us in Hyperspace, travelling in the opposite direction.

It showed up over Partoga while we were rematerializing at Aoraki.


 
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HistoryDude

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Is that powerful psionic entity the End of the Cycle? Or at least a Shroud-Being?

Is Kendra favoring Nomsa for the Royal Election?

Also, how does Kendra know Hawaiian? I remember the Hyperspace call from the end of Faith, but that shouldn't be enough to learn a language!

Earth is the Beast's next target... that is not good.

The End, the Apocalypse, is already beginning... now, all we can do is hope that it doesn't finish. Although, this'll be an apocalypse even if nobody is wiped out because apocalypse is (transliterated) Greek for revelation... and there have been a lot of those...
 

Macavity116

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Is that powerful psionic entity the End of the Cycle?
Yup.


Is Kendra favoring Nomsa for the Royal Election?
Very heavily. It's not confirmed in this chapter, but Kendra has achieved a level of centralization in her government that grants her enough power and control to straight-up rig the election after her death.


Also, how does Kendra know Hawaiian? I remember the Hyperspace call from the end of Faith, but that shouldn't be enough to learn a language!
Kendra doesn't know enough Hawaiian to hold a conversation. She just copied Jericho's words from the end of Faith word-for-word. She picked up a few extra words from intelligence reports. (Triple Alliance spies and agents on Earth were funneling information back to Partoga right up until the Hyperwave Network went down)

apocalypse is (transliterated) Greek for revelation... and there have been a lot of those...
And there's more to come.
 

Macavity116

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Unplanned hiatus due to military obligation.

Longtime readers already know that my work sometimes pulls me away from writing/posting for weeks at a time. For new readers who haven't seen this message before, here's what's up:

I work for the US Army National Guard when I'm not here. Sometimes, that work stops me from writing or posting for a while. Anyway, it's happened again. I need to take some time away from the forums to do my job. But there's one big problem: unit leadership is either unwilling or unable to tell us when we'll get to come home.

Seriously, nobody has any info. Everything's up in the air right now.

I honestly have no idea when I'll be able to return to The Stormbreakers. Rest assured readers, I will get back to this story as soon as I can.

Be well, stay safe. See you soon. (I hope)