• Crusader Kings III Available Now!

    The realm rejoices as Paradox Interactive announces the launch of Crusader Kings III, the latest entry in the publisher’s grand strategy role-playing game franchise. Advisors may now jockey for positions of influence and adversaries should save their schemes for another day, because on this day Crusader Kings III can be purchased on Steam, the Paradox Store, and other major online retailers.


    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
Chapter 35: Our Angel of the Shining Hinterlands

Macavity116

The First Stormbreaker
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Mar 1, 2018
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archiveofourown.org
  • Stellaris
Hello all! I'm back!

I was actually planning to start posting chapters again last Saturday, but the Army's plans never survive first contact with... well... anything. I got home two days late. :(

But now it's time to get back to work. I have no intention to leave this story unfinished, especially when we're just 13 chapters away from the ending! Let's go!
======

Chapter Thirty-Five
Our Angel of the Shining Hinterlands


Caption said:
The Altes Stadthaus in Berlin. This structure was once the City Hall of Berlin, and it has been consistently occupied and used by multiple governments over the past 125 years. (1911 to 2036)
Friday, May 2, 2036 – 8:00am
Headquarters of the UN Reclamation Agency, Berlin, Germany



In the core of the German capitol city, a convoy of government vehicles came to a stop in front of an imposing government building. As a group, the Stormbreakers exited the armored limousine and started walking towards the Altes Stadthaus. This structure had been a government building for over one hundred years. It had survived multiple wars and occupations, and now the UN had scooped it up for its own purposes.

Isis, Sophie, Sophia, Yutaka, and Matthew all went in first, while Odette held the door open for Chihiro. Chihiro herself was a little encumbered. She was wearing a baby carrier sling across her front, and Himawari was enjoying the ride, reaching her little hands out to grab at anything that looked interesting.

Several high-ranking members of the UN government were waiting in the lobby, along with a small mob of news reporters, Earthborn or otherwise. Standing together in the lobby was UN Secretary-General Laura Harper, Japanese Prime Minister Ryo Nakagawa, and the newly elected Hawaiian President Robert Lansing. (A twig of a man with no muscles to speak of) Odette put out one arm to stop Chihiro from walking past the group. She played along, only pretending to be surprised. Word of today’s events had leaked out some time ago, and Chihiro had made her peace with what was about to happen.

The other Stormbreakers, with knowing looks on their faces, gathered in front of the three leaders and stood at the position of attention. News cameras buzzed and clicked around them while Odette gently steered Chihiro towards the front of the group. Even Himawari seemed to have clued in on the fact that something important was happening and fell (mostly) silent. President Lansing spoke first:

“Sergeant Chihiro Tachibana, as a soldier of XCOM, it is your duty to protect all life on Earth from those who would seek to harm the good inhabitants of the Earth. On the night of February 15th, you demonstrated the highest levels of courage and bravery in the execution of that duty, by continuing to attack an overwhelming foe after all of your comrades had been forced to stop their own efforts. You fought to protect a town of Hawaiians you had never known before that night. Please accept the gratitude of the Hawaiian Republic, along with this…”

President Lansing unfurled a roll of paper that had been stamped with an official seal. He showed it first to the news cameras and then to Chihiro. It said:


“Be it known to all that
Her Imperial Highness, the Princess Chihiro of Chiyako
Has on this 2nd day of MAY 2036
Been appointed an HONORARY CITIZEN of the Republic of Hawaii”

“You and your daughter will always find friends and family amongst our people.” Lansing finished. “You are one of us now.”

Prime Minister Nakagawa went next. With both hands, he offered a small medal to Chihiro. It consisted of a hemispherical ruby surrounded by a white pattern of rays shooting out in all directions. He rendered a short speech that he had clearly spent some time to memorize:

“By the grace of Heaven, Emperor of Japan, seated on the throne occupied by the same dynasty from time immemorial, I confer the Fourth Class of the Order of the Rising Sun upon her Highness Chihiro. It is given this day in recognition of heroic acts performed on behalf of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force between the years of 2008 and 2036, and in homage to her contribution to the Liberation of Japan.”

While Chihiro accepted the medal, Secretary-General presented the third and final honor:

“Since the dawn of warfare, women have picked up arms and served in the front lines, often over the objections of their male counterparts. There are countless examples throughout history of women who rose to become great warriors and skilled leaders, but only a select few are remembered by history. Today, Sergeant Tachibana will join those ranks alongside great heroes like Opha May Johnson, Alexandra Kudasheva, Roza Shanina, Nakano Takeko, and Queen Boudicca. I’m proud to present her with XCOM’s highest award for heroism: The Star of Terra!”





Caption said:
The Star of Terra is XCOM's highest possible award for heroism. Chihiro Tachibana is the first recipient of the Star of Terra, despite the fact that it was first created and authorized in 2015, over 20 years ago.
With three awards in hand, Chihiro couldn’t salute. President Lansing clapped his hands and started a round of applause in the group of spectators. Ryo bowed, and the Secretary-General just smiled. After the award ceremony, the three leaders hung around for just a few minutes more to have a photo opportunity with the Stormbreakers and Chihiro before they moved off to the next event on their itinerary. Chihiro finally got a chance to relax, stuffing the two medals into her pocket before Himawari could get the chance to start chewing on them. Meanwhile, Chihiro’s fellow squadmates and a few extra guests swarmed around her in an impromptu celebration. Adrien Fournier and Miranda Robinson, two members of Blake’s extended family, both offered to take a turn playing with Himawari and keep her busy while Chihiro was called away by someone else.

Commander Bradford and Central Officer Smith had watched the ceremony from a distance. They were both wearing dress uniforms and carrying briefcases. There was a folded slip of paper in Holly’s free hand. Chihiro got a sinking feeling in her stomach as she approached them. She already knew what they were going to say.

“Hey, Sergeant.” Bradford didn’t look Chihiro in the eye. “So, Smith and I made a decision and-”

Holly cut him off with a scolding tone of voice.

“Bradford, are you daft!? The woman can read minds! She already knows!”

The Commander’s face fell. He gave Chihiro an apologetic look.

“I’m so sorry.” He finally said. “But you know XCOM has a strict policy against separating children from their mothers.”

Bradford really was sorry. Chihiro could sense that. She could see the echoes of stress in his mind, where Bradford had spent weeks trying to figure out a legitimate reason to do this. He was desperate to avoid saying: “I’m doing this because you had a child.” He was afraid of being perceived as a sexist.

Unfortunately, it was the truth. The ugly truth that no one wanted to admit. Holly launched into an excuse:

“We can’t, in good conscience, send you into combat anymore. We considered a lot of alternatives, honestly.”

Putting her hands on her hips, Chihiro said:

“You wanted to give me a nine-to-five desk job.”

“Yeah. We thought about that.” Holly admitted. “But it’s just not right for the baby. She’s young and she’s got special needs. We had to do what was best for both you and Himawari.”

Chihiro nodded.

“Yeah. I know.” She sighed. “Let’s get this over with.”

Bradford handed the slip of paper to Chihiro.

“As of noon today,” he explained, “You are dismissed from XCOM and honorably discharged from the Armed Forces of the United Nations of Earth. In compliance with the 2036 Accords, you are entitled to a basic veteran’s pension for the rest of your life, along with free healthcare and housing so long as you live in a city controlled by a UN member-state. This document has all the info you need to get your entitlements from the UN government.”

Looking over her discharge papers, Chihiro spotted a discrepancy:

“Hang on, my pension paperwork says that I’m an ‘Unmarried single mother!’ That’s not right! Shouldn’t I get something for Blake? AFUNE declared him dead! Don’t I get a widow’s pension?”

“We looked for loopholes.” Bradford answered. “I swear we did.”

Chihiro could tell he was telling the truth. In her Psionic mind’s eye, Chihiro saw that Bradford’s mind seemed to light up in a peculiar way whenever he admitted to some kind of failure, like he was doing now.

“Thing is,” Holly explained, “You and Captain Robinson were never married in a legally-binding way. XCOM never recognized the union, so there’s no government on Earth that’ll give you a widow’s pension. Hell, in all of our records, your daughter’s name is listed as Himawari Tachibana, a child with no father. As soon as we got a government to report to, our hands got tied up in red tape. I’m sorry to say, but from a legal standpoint, the only people allowed the fallen warrior pension on Robinson’s life are his actual blood relatives: the Robinson and Fournier families.

Chihiro found something else on the sheet that alarmed her:

“I have to give back all my equipment!?”

“All weapons, armor, and utility items, yes.” Holly answered, then she leaned in close and whispered, “Just between you and me, though: I told the Quartermaster you lost your sword during the fight on Lanai. We wrote it off as a loss. Just don’t let anyone see you take it.”

Okay. That was actually kinda cool.



It was a busy morning for Chihiro, but before lunch was over, things were taking yet another turn.

She and the other Stormbreakers had not come to Berlin for just the award ceremony. No, the main event started around noon. At the central meeting hall, Chihiro flashed her invitation to the guard and was allowed into the audience gallery where the rest of her now-former comrades were waiting. Sitting down near the balcony railing, Chihiro and Himawari quickly found themselves sandwiched between Odette Fournier and her father, Adrien, both of whom wanted to play with the baby. Himawari looked back and forth between the two French people, then up at her mother in confusion.

Giggling, Chihiro pulled a small dictionary of Sign Language out of her pocket. First, she pointed to Odette and said “cousin” out loud while simultaneously spelling out the word with her free hand. Then she pointed to Adrien, and said “uncle” while again spelling the word in Sign Language. Too young to understand any of this, Himawari gargled and started sucking on her own fingers.

Meanwhile, down below on the assembly hall floor, a meeting of the Global Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in progress. Director Jane Kelly and the other leading members of the GTRC called the session to order and announced that they were going to resume yesterday’s business.

“I’m told that our witness is ready to face the individual she made accusations against.” Jane Kelly said. “Will the Skirmisher delegation please approach the stand?”

Looking over the railing, Chihiro spotted three ex-ADVENT soldiers, two of whom she recognized. Betos, the leader of the Skirmisher faction, and her lieutenant, Pratal Mox, were escorting a female Skirmisher to the witness stand.

“Will you please tell us your name and stellar origin status for the record?” Jane asked.

The female Skirmisher replied in a thick Australian accent:

“They call me ‘Zephyr’ and I’m Terrestrial.”

“Good.” Jane said. “Are you ready to confront the individual you have accused of war crimes today?”

“Yes.” Zephyr replied. “Please.”

Jane raised her voice so that someone in the back could hear her.

“Mira Mihaka! Please approach the commission!”

Mira was escorted into the chamber by four Reclamation Agents. (three Humans and a Sectoid) For the vast majority of spectators on the upper level, this was their first time seeing the Chosen Assassin in-person. Chihiro had to hunch over as the Viper in the seat behind her reared up to get a better look.

While Mira took her place at the defendant’s stand, Jane read aloud from a paper that a Reclamation Agent had passed to her.

“The Commission acknowledges the presence of Mira Mihaka, the Exoterrestrial Hybrid individual accused by Miss Zephyr of conducting extrajudicial killings of ADVENT Army deserters while under the alias of ‘The Elder’s Chosen Assassin.’ Miss Zephyr, do you recognize the individual to your right?”

Zephyr cast a quick look at Mira, who kept her face passive, before responding:

“Yes.”

“Who is she?”

“That is Vox Prima. Elder Assassin.” Zephyr answered. “Relentless death that stalked my kind. She’s the butcher of freed ADVENT.”

“Miss Mihaka,” Jane inquired. “Did you serve in the ADVENT Army at any point between 2015 and 2035?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Did you operate as the Chosen Assassin?”

“Yes. I was the Elder’s hand of vengeance for a period of roughly five years.”

“Did you execute ADVENT soldiers who had refused to fight against Human forces?”

“Yes.”

“Were these soldiers given a trial beforehand?”

“No.”

“How many executions?”

“One-thousand-one-hundred-forty-two.”

Awed gasps and horrified screams ran through the audience gallery. Jane pressed on.

“Did you hunt down ADVENT soldiers who had deserted the ADVENT Army? These individuals may or may not have been Skirmishers.”

“Yes.”

“What happened to these deserters when you caught them.”

“I executed them.”

“How?”

“With my sword.”

“Where is this weapon now?”

Before Mira could answer, someone interrupted her.

“Excuse me!”

It was the Commander of XCOM. Bradford approached the Commission and answered Jane’s question on Mira’s behalf:

“That sword was confiscated from Miss Mihaka when she defected over to our side. It was pressed into service on my order and was recently lost during a combat operation on the island of Lanai. I apologize. It was reckless of us.”

Jane wrote down a note in the margins of her paperwork.

“I see.” She continued. “Miss Mihaka, during the testimony she gave yesterday, Zephyr accused you of attacking and killing ADVENT Army soldiers who had deserted their posts, thrown down their weapons, and become noncombatants. Killing individuals who have surrendered, disarmed themselves, or otherwise become noncombatants and no longer pose a physical threat is a class two War Crime as defined by the 2036 Accords. Depending on the severity of the crime and the discretion of the courts, you could be punished with a life sentence in prison or death by electrocution. However, you made a conscious decision to defect to our side during the war; post-conflict, you briefly fled from our agents but have been cooperative ever since your apprehension, and you have confessed to the crimes you were accused of. Keeping these details in mind, you have satisfied the eligibility requirements for amnesty. Will you petition the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for amnesty at this time?”

“Yes.” Mira answered.

The Skirmisher named Zephyr pressed both of her hands to the tabletop and leaned towards Mira.

“Say, Mihaka…. Do you regret any of it?”

Mira looked over at her former enemy.

“Serving the Elders? Absolutely.” She replied. “I fought because I had no choice. The Elders power was absolute. If the soldiers of Stormbreaker Squad had not broken through to me, I never would have been able to break the Elder’s hold over me. I would have died not knowing my own freedom was possible. For that intervention, I am grateful.”

Keeping her face expressionless, Zephyr stared at Mira silently. Meanwhile, Jane and the other members of the Truth Commission were having a quick discussion amongst themselves. Finally, the former XCOM Colonel addressed Mira:

“This Commission has agreed to hear your application for amnesty of class two War Crimes committed in service of the Elders between 2030 and 2035. Before we proceed to the final decision, we will require you to submit a full written confession of all crimes you committed during your service to the Elders. Furthermore, you must publicly ask your accuser for forgiveness. You are not required to receive it. You need only ask. Do you understand the requirements we’ve set?”

“Yes, ma’am.”



The hearing did not adjourn until sometime in the early evening. There was so much more to do once Mira and Zephyr’s time was up.

The were many people being investigated. Before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission parted ways for the night, a few former members of the ADVENT Government had accused Konstantine Volkilov and his Reapers of war crimes, and several members of the alien and Hybrid communities backed them up. Before too long, there was a general rallying cry going around the hearing, demanding the Reapers be brought to justice.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, though, was Sophia Kuznetsova. She requested to speak before the commission as a character witness. She told everyone the story of how her own father, the Reaper known as Ivan Kuznetsov, had tried to murder her after discovering the fact that she preferred being with women. Sophia punctuated her story by partially removing her headscarf, giving the commission (and also the news cameras) a very brief view of her mutilated face. When she explained exactly how her father had caused the injury, she single-handedly turned the audience (and possibly most of the world) against the Reapers. Arrest warrants were issued in short order.

Meanwhile, Chihiro said her goodbyes to her comrades.

Now that her military service had formally come to an end, Chihiro would only be allowed back onto XCOM’s base at Easter Island for a short time to clear out her locker and collect her final paycheck. After that, Wendy Carter would fly Chihiro back to her “Home on-record.”

Now, Chihiro had a very strong hunch that she wouldn’t be able to get back into the Nagasaki apartment where she and Blake had lived before the alien invasion. Figuring out a place to live was just starting to come to the forefront of Chihiro’s mind as she hugged the six remaining Stormbreakers, who would be leaving from Berlin and traveling directly to their next mission site in the Philippines. Himawari giggled as Odette Fournier planted a kiss on her forehead; and then Odette stood up and spoke:

“I’ve got your husband’s money.”

It was so uncommon, so profoundly out-of-character for Odette to engage in private conversation with her teammates that Chihiro had to do a double-take just to make sure she knew who was speaking. Odette repeated herself in that same gruff masculine voice, which sounded strained and a little weak from lack of use.

“The UN started sending a fallen warrior stipend to my father.” Odette clarified and jerked her thumb towards the Frenchman who was talking to Bradford. “Apparently, he is Blake’s ‘closest male relative’ or something stupid like that. Anyway, I intercepted the money. Figured you needed it more than my father. This should help you find a new home.”

Odette hugged Chihiro one last time and press a heavy envelope into her palm. As she walked away, Odette got behind her father and smacked him on the back of the head with so much force that he stumbled forward and crashed into Bradford, earning an angry tirade from XCOM’s Commander. Chihiro, meanwhile, quickly opened the envelope and found a government check entitling the “Surviving Family of Blake Alexander Robinson” to several thousand Credits.

More than enough for an apartment or a small house. Chihiro smiled.



Chihiro had to wait for another vehicle to transport her to the airport. Since she was now just a civilian, she couldn’t ride back with the Stormbreakers. Settling down in the Altes Stadthaus lobby, Chihiro passed the time by watching a TV news report while Himawari fell asleep on her mother’s chest.

Onscreen, a reporter talked about how more and more alien ships were arriving above Earth from all over the Galaxy. Members of almost every spacefaring civilization had assembled in low Earth orbit. Some were refugees from Hiigara and Taiidan, both worlds had recently fallen to the Beast. Others had come from much farther away, such as Assuria, Partoga, and even Paku Nui, which was on the far side of the Galaxy. These wayward travelers brought alarming stories about the war.

The Beast was rampaging unchecked across the Galaxy. The Partogan-led Triple Alliance and its Hiigaran counterpart were suffering a rapid succession of horrific defeats, and the Galactic Front Line had now reached Sirius, a star system dangerously close to Earth. But this wasn’t the most intriguing thing of note.

A huge armada of Triple Alliance warships had materialized in the Shining Hinterlands, a region of space that marked the border between the Hiigaran Empire and what was now generally considered to be “Human space.” The constant stream of ships arriving at Earth each day brought reports that this fleet was battling its way through the Beast and was making its way to Earth as fast as possible. This fleet was, according to rumor, under the supernatural protection of some kind of “Space Angel” who wielded great power.

Nearly every news caster and military expert on Earth had assumed that this “Space Angel” was either the Partogan Queen Kendra, Hiigaran leader Karan Sjet, or Triple Alliance Admiral Makara Ranginui… but Chihiro could think of one other name… and she dared to hope for a miracle.

Someone sat down next to Chihiro on the sofa and joined her in watching the newscast.

“Fascinating.” Mira Mihaka said. “So many ships and races, all beginning to gather here. It feels like they know something profound, but in reality, they’re mostly just chasing rumors.”

Himawari grabbed one of Mira’s fingers in her sleep and held on tightly.

“Hey, Mira.” Chihiro said. “How are you?”

“Being kept busy.” The former Chosen Assassin admitted. “The GTRC has no limit to the questions they ask or testimonies they demand. All of my own investigations have come to a stop until I can bring my case to a resolution.”

“Well, I’ll tell Hawkins and the squad to keep all of that Pacific Anomaly madness under control for you, alright?” Chihiro cracked a small smile. “No matter where I end up living in Japan, I’m going to be really close to the waterline. If I have to crack a Tarsoth’s skull because they were slacking off, I’ll sic the Templars on ‘em.”

Mira laughed, then she seemed to get serious.

“That reminds me. I wanted to ask for your help.”

“My help?” Chihiro asked. “You know who you’re talking to, right? I’m kinda busy these days, even if I’m not a soldier anymore.”

As if to prove Chihiro’s point, Himawari woke up and began to cry. Chihiro swept the baby up in her arms and started rocking back and forth, patting her child in a soothing way.

“I am sorry AFUNE cut you loose.” Mira raised her voice to be heard above Himawari’s wails.

“Of course, you probably knew about that already.” Chihiro tried to make her voice sound casual, but a little bit of contempt slipped through.

Stung, Mira took a second to reply. As Himawari calmed down, Mira said:

“Well, that’s just the thing, Chihiro. This has never happened before.”

Chihiro looked around at Mira.

“Huh?”

Mira leaned in close.

“One-hundred fifteen Cycles have gone by.” Mira said. “And there has never been one where you were thrown out of XCOM before the War in Heaven.” Mira explained. “This is the first time you were sidelined before the final fight.”

Reading into this, Chihiro said:

“Lemme guess. This is the first time I had a baby before the big day, right?”

“Well, yes.” Mira admitted. “Normally, you give birth during the War in Heaven.”

Chihiro’s eyes went wide. She very much regretted that last comment as unbidden images crept through her mind, ensuring she would have nightmares tonight.

“Okay! I… uh, I think I prefer this timeline.” Chihiro squeaked.

Mira shifted her tone, looking furtively about as though checking or eavesdroppers.

“You know why things are going so differently, right?” Mira asked. “It’s Akira. There’s no doubt in my mind she’s tampering with our lives again, in disguise as she normally does.”

“Normally?” Chihiro asked. “She revealed herself to Blake and I, like, twice.”

“To you.” Mira corrected her. “I worked with Akira for years. In every Cycle, she feels comfortable revealing herself to you. Most other times, she will conceal her identity. This is where I need your help, Chihiro. And I promise to pay you well for your services.”

“Pay me?” Chihiro repeated. “Where are you getting money from?”

“Trinity Project.” Mira answered. “They call me a ‘Remote Consultant’ and pay me in UN Credits. Help me out here and I’ll give you a share: I need two people Psionically probed, and I can’t do it myself. The Truth Commission and the Trinity are both keeping me occupied.”

Chihiro hesitated for a moment.

“You just want me to look in a couple people’s heads?”

“Yes.”

“Spy. You want me to telepathically spy on people?”

“You just want to hear me say: ‘I want you to be my spy.’”

“C’mon! Say it!”

Mira pulled a tablet computer out of her pocket and brought up two pictures. Chihiro recognized them both. It was Duane Gardner and Violet, two members of the Templar Order.

“You want me to poke around in the heads of Jericho’s ex and a recently crazy person?” Chihiro visibly deflated with disappointment. “Man, I thought I was gonna get to, like, plant an idea in Geist’s head or something.”

Mira raised an eyebrow at Chihiro, but pressed on.

“I have very strong reason to believe that Akira is focused on Duane.” Mira explained. “And that she is using or manipulating him to some end. Somehow, Akira has a place for him in her twisted vision of the future. I need to know exactly what Akira has planned for Duane, and more specifically, I need to know what his Unique Psionic power is.”

“Hang on, you don’t already know?” Chihiro asked.

Mira shook her head.

“Duane’s unique power appears to be a source of contention amongst the Templars.” Mira said. “In many Cycles, including my own, there was a dispute between Duane and Jericho shortly before the War in Heaven. Jericho wanted him to refrain from using his special abilities for some reason. Duane disagreed with her, and the two of them came to blows. After the Beast was defeated, the Templar Order fell into schism and fractured, with the supporters of Duane and Jericho parting ways. By the time my own life began, the Templars were engaged in civil war, fighting one another over a century-old debate. The result of all this is that any knowledge of Duane’s unique power ends up being lost. Akira doesn’t have a record of it, and neither do I. However, we might have a way to find out…”

Mira tapped the picture of Violet.

“You said it yourself. This woman has not been herself since the night you fought the Tren Krom in Lanai. According to Triple Alliance records, that ship was last seen at the Science Nexus, a place where Vanians were experimenting with technologies that allowed them to send entire starships into the Shroud. Akira must have had a hand in its sudden appearance on Earth, and I’m convinced Akira has replaced this ‘Violet’ woman with herself.”

Chihiro’s jaw fell open.

“You think that’s Akira!? Violet!?”

Mira nodded. After a moment, Chihiro collected herself.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Simple.” Mira answered. “I want you to confirm Violet’s identity, and then check Duane to see if he is under Mind Control. If he is, break it. If not, find out what his unique power is. Then come back to me. I’ll most likely still be here in Berlin.”

“One question.” Chihiro said. “Actually, more like two or three: Where are these two? How am I supposed to get to them and back again? What the hell am I supposed to do with Himawari while I’m possibly confronting Akira!?”

Mira waved a hand dismissively.

“Don’t worry.” She said. “I’ve considered those angles already. If Akira really has gotten close to Duane, as I fear, I have a way to hide you from her: I’m going to teach you a Psionic technique that should keep you safe. Furthermore, I’ve devised a simple but effective cover for you to travel without drawing attention: You are looking for a place to live, right?”

Chihiro raised her eyebrows. She could see where Mira was going with this.

“I’m not moving back to Tokyo, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Not Tokyo, of course.” Mira smiled and shook her head. “I was thinking somewhere further out to sea…”



Monday, May 12, 2036 – 11:00am
Honolulu Spaceport, Oahu Island, Republic of Hawaii



There were so many people crammed into the spaceport that Chihiro felt like she was fighting an ocean tide. Thousands of Humans, Hybrids, and aliens of varying species all bustled about the terminal, moving in roughly the same direction. It seemed as though everyone wanted to get into Honolulu. After nearly an hour of battling her way through the crowd, Chihiro and Himawari finally reached the entry station they were looking for.

The word “Immigration” was repeated on a large sign in English, Hawaiian, the Hybrid language, Japanese, and French. At the kiosk, a wide array of Humans and non-Humans waited in line for their turn to enter Hawaii. Luckily for Chihiro, the line moved rather quickly today.

A pleasant-looking woman smiled at Himawari, who was riding on Chihiro’s back via her baby carrier, then said:

“Welcome to Hawaii. Is this a temporary visit or do you plan to stay long-term?”

“Long-term.” Chihiro answered. “I wanted to find a place to settle down with the little one.”

“The Hawaiian immigration process is a little more difficult than normal.” The Kiosk lady explained. “Our country has recently been subjected to attacks from the sea, which means we have to house everyone further inland, something that’s difficult to do on an island nation, you understand. We can issue you a temporary residency permit until the details are hammered out at a later date. I just need your identifying documents.”

After all this time, the only form of ID Chihiro still had on her person was her XCOM ID card and her JSDF dog tags. She also handed over the honorary citizenship certificate she’d gotten from the Hawaiian President. The Kiosk lady looked over the certificate for a few moments, then said she needed to make a phone call. Chihiro and Himawari were pulled aside into a waiting area, and about fifteen minutes later, a small group of Hawaiian government officials came in.

Things proceeded exactly as Mira had said they would: As soon as Chihiro’s residency visa was approved, the UN Housing Authority helped her rent out an upper-middle class apartment in downtown Honolulu, (the money Odette gave to Chihiro ended up being a big help here) and once she was moved in, she was introduced to a specialized children’s hospital that catered to children with physical disabilities, where the UN would provide free medical service for both Chihiro and her daughter.

As for Chihiro’s new apartment, it had once been part of a complex that housed ADVENT government officials, who had since been forced to move out. As such, it was fully kitted out with the latest in ADVENT technology, and the whole place looked disturbingly similar to the “Home of the Future” advertised in ADVENT propaganda. A voice-activated digital screen dominated the living room, stretching from floor to ceiling and allowing Chihiro to either watch television or make video calls. Within an hour of programming her contact info into the computer, Chihiro got her first video call.

Sophia Kuznetsova contacted Chihiro from XCOM HQ in Japan, appearing on the big screen. As it turned out, Sophia had desperately needed someone to talk to for the past couple of days, and Chihiro ended up being the first person to hold a meaningful conversation with Sophia in the past week. Sophia had suffered a nervous breakdown after revealing her face to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Berlin, an event that had been broadcasted all over the world and had drawn quite a lot of attention onto her. News agencies had displayed images of her mutilated face for the entire planet to see. Comedians were having a field day with Sophia’s story, while other politicians had actively tried to discredit her.

Right now, Sophia just needed to hear a reassuring voice.

“Everyone’s talking about me behind my back.” Sophia sniffled, on the verge of tears. “Everywhere I go, there’s people saying horrible stuff me! There’s hate mail with my name on it showing up at HQ, coming from Russia!”

Sophia’s home country was known for being somewhat hostile towards people like her, and the sight of a lesbian wearing the Soviet hammer and sickle on her uniform had produced a vitriolic response from her fellow countrymen. The news of hate mail from Russia made Chihiro feel a little sick, and she did her best to make Sophia feel better.

“Forget about them.” Chihiro told Sophia. “I’m here for you. So is the rest of the Squad. You can talk to me anytime.”

“Yeah, right.” Sophia scoffed, then she mumbled. “No one talked to me before. No one cares about me… Nobody.”

Then Himawari crawled towards the digital screen and put her hand on it, trying to touch the image of Sophia. The two women looked at the baby and shared a laugh.



The next day, Chihiro prepared to hunt down Duane Gardner. Before she could start, however, she needed to use the new Psionic technique Mira had taught her.

Standing between a mirror and Himawari, Chihiro focused her mind intensely on a mental image of herself, before beginning to alter and reshape it. Psionic Manipulation is a curious power: It only worked if the user was being directly observed or watched. Chihiro wasn’t changing her physical appearance. Instead, she was altering Himawari’s perception of her. After several moments, the baby Robinson’s smile fell as the familiar person in front of her transformed into a complete stranger.

From Himawari’s point of view, Chihiro’s eyes faded from blue to hazel, she became a little taller, and her straight black hair became messy and brown. Finally, to cap off the change, Chihiro tried to speak to Himawari, but instead of the usual slightly-high pitched tone paired with a metro Tokyo accent, Chihiro’s voice was lower, and had the kind of “country girl” accent you’d expect from someone who had grown up in rural Japan.

“Hana-chan, do you recognize me?” Chihiro asked.

Himawari did not recognize her mother. This strange woman in the apartment was clearly Akaya Ogawa, an XCOM soldier stationed at the base on Easter Island. Not knowing where her mother was and starting to become afraid, Himawari burst into tears! Reflexively, Chihiro dropped her Psionic disguise and picked up her daughter in a gentle hug. Patting Himawari’s head and whispering reassuring words, Chihiro made a note on her mental checklist. All the prep work was done. It was time to get to work.

There was one big obstacle stopping Chihiro from finding Duane Gardner: the disappearance of the Templar Order.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Lanai, the Templars had suspended their cooperation with XCOM and had gone underground. Geist was out of contact with AFUNE, and nobody Chihiro called could give her a useful answer. The only times the Templars emerged from hiding was during brief fights with the sea monsters or the Reapers. To make matters worse, Chihiro was no longer a member of AFUNE, meaning that she had lost access to any classified Intel reports that might have helped her track down the Templars. She would have to seek out Duane another way. Mira was certain he was on the island of Oahu, but couldn’t narrow the search area down below that.

“I saw his name on a list of known Templars who had passed through Hawaiian customs.” Mira had said. “He entered the country, but never left. He was born and raised there, so I doubt he’s in any hurry to leave.”

Chihiro took to patrolling the streets around the Honolulu Spaceport, using Psionic Manipulation to fudge her identity to anyone who looked at her twice. Mira had told her that some of the new aliens arriving on Earth were going out of their way to try and find the Templar Order, and that following them would be the quickest way to track down Duane Gardner and Violet, the woman now suspected of being a disguised Akira.

Lucky for Chihiro, there were a lot of such aliens to follow. For the past month, thousands of starships from the Galactic Alliance had started arriving at Earth, and now the streets of Honolulu were packed to bursting with Hiigarans, Taiidani, Scyldari, Blorg, Voor, Kel-Azan, and other aliens from the Hiigaran sphere of influence.

Walking around the city was a jarring experience for Chihiro. She had still not gotten used to wearing civilian clothing, and found her outfit of choice, a tee-shirt and jean skirt, to be very uncomfortable. To make matters worse, people seemed to look at her differently. She just didn’t look like a soldier anymore, and Himawari (who was riding along in her baby carrier as always) had a noticeably darker skin color than her mother, which also drew curious eyes. Using the excuse of “window shopping for a new outfit” to pace up and down the street, Chihiro kept looking from left to right, observing people while keeping on the move.

It didn’t take long for Chihiro to find a lead. Towards the end of her second day of searching, Chihiro had given her daughter a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun at bay, and Himawari found ways to entertain herself while Chihiro navigated the city streets. One of those ways popped up while Chihiro was trying to side-step around a man who was passing out flyers on a street corner. Himawari reached out with both of her little hands and successfully snatched a sheet of paper from the recruiter while Chihiro had her back turned. The man’s loud laughter caught Chihiro’s attention and she turned around.

“Your girl’s got a real gift!” the man said before moving off to distribute flyers elsewhere on the block.

Chihiro unfastened her baby carrier and repositioned it so that Himawari was up front. She found her daughter crumpling up the flyer for fun. The baby looked up at her mother and held up the ruined advertisement. Chihiro unfolded the paper and gave it the most cursory of glances before she froze, reading and re-reading the paper just to make sure she really had seen what she thought she did. In bright yellow letters on a blue field, the poster declared:

Answer the call! Our Angel of the Shining Hinterlands needs your help to defeat the Beast! Join Jericho’s Progeny today! Seek out your local Templars and do your part for victory!

In the center of the poster was an image of a Human and several aliens, standing side by side and wearing the same black and yellow uniform while a stylized starship flew above them.

Chihiro’s heart raced! This was it! This had to be the way to finding Duane! Thinking quickly, Chihiro disguised herself, scrambling everybody’s perception of her to the point where no one would be able to recall their first meeting with her. Then she looked around to see where the man with the flyers had gone. He was nearby, having stopped two Sectoids and a Viper and evangelizing to them. Securing the baby carrier straps, Chihiro walked at a brisk pace to catch up with him.

“…Jericho is full of love and forgiveness.” The man was saying. “She will see you as more than her former enemies. We are all united in the fight against the Beast now, so you will be more than welcome amongst the Progeny!”

“Excuse me!” Chihiro panted, having finally caught up. “I was wondering if you could tell me-”

The man turned around, saw Chihiro, failed to realize he’d met her before and spoke with great enthusiasm:

“Yes! A new mother! Surely you of all people will know about the importance of Jericho’s work!”

“Ah… sure.” Chihiro replied, trying to keep her answers cryptic. “I mean, I guess so. I actually saw Jericho once before the Elders fell.”

The aliens didn’t seem to notice that their jaws had fallen open. The Viper in particular seemed awestruck. The man raised his arms as though he intended to embrace Chihiro and the two aliens in a group hug.

“I believe we could find all of you a place in Jericho’s Progeny.” He said. “Let me get you some contact details, and you can come meet us at our next gathering.”



Thursday, May 15, 2036 – 10:00pm
Kaneohe Crater, Oahu Island, Republic of Hawaii



Right now, Chihiro couldn’t help but envy Himawari.

Before coming out here tonight, Chihiro had taken extra precautions, knowing that she might not be coming home until very early tomorrow morning. She had bought a warm fuzzy coat for Himawari to wear, and had wrapped her baby up in several layers. Chihiro was so focused on making sure her daughter stayed warm that she had neglected her own outfit. Secured snugly in her carrier harness, Himawari fell asleep as soon as the trip began.

So, while Himawari got some shuteye, Chihiro followed the instructions given to her by the Progeny recruiter. She followed Interstate H3, one of the country’s main highways, to the northwest. After walking for about a mile, she finally got far enough away from the city that she was completely alone. Chihiro picked out a mental image of herself that would become her next Psionic disguise. She planned to make small changes to her body shape, hair and eyes. It would be an easy illusion to maintain, but would be enough to mask her identity. She couldn’t help but wonder what kind of process Akira went through picking out disguises.

She’s my daughter. Chihiro thought to herself. Maybe she does Psionic disguises the same way I do.

The sun had fully set and it was starting to get quite cold out. Chihiro found herself wishing she had dressed in a warmer outfit. Skirts and short sleeves might be nice in the daytime, but now Chihiro realized just how much she’d taken her heavy military uniform for granted as misty clouds escaped her mouth with each shivering breath.

Before too long, Chihiro crossed paths with a large open-top truck parked on the side of the road. In the back were about a dozen Humans, aliens, and Hybrids, all chattering excitedly. Chihiro didn’t need the Gift to know that they were all talking about the same thing: The Angel of the Shining Hinterlands, She of the Void who was battling her way across the Galaxy to save us all.

They were talking about Jericho.

As soon as she came within sight of the others, Chihiro threw on her Psionic disguise exactly how Mira had taught her to do, reaching into minds and subtly tweaking the way people looked at her. By the time anyone acknowledged her presence, Chihiro had fully hidden herself behind a false image. The Progeny recruiter jumped out of the driver’s seat to give Chihiro a welcoming hug and offer her a place with the other passengers. She found the group of travelers to be quite kind and welcoming. A Levakian male had curled up on the floor and was sharing his body heat with two Vipers, who probably would have frozen in the frigid cold tonight. The pair of cold-blooded aliens gave the lion grateful expressions as they slithered underneath his large furry body. A Kelt traveler took interest in Himawari and spent the journey watching her sleep in Chihiro’s lap.

The truck rolled out, heading further north while the passengers continued to share rumors and speculation about what Jericho was like and how she would defeat the Beast. Chihiro engaged as well, telling stories of the battles she’d fought with Jericho against the Elders, but intentionally leaving out any mention of her own presence at those conflicts. She wanted to stay as low-key as possible tonight.

Finally, after about half an hour of driving, they arrived at their destination: the city of Kanehoe… or what was left of it.

Twenty-one years ago, Kanehoe had been a thriving resort town on the northern shores of Oahu. A playground of the wealthy and powerful, people who got to stay in Kanehoe had advanced all the way to the top of the Old World hierarchy. When the aliens had invaded, Kanehoe was targeted heavily by abductor pods, and most of the population ended up in either the alien’s underground base or in the hold of the Temple Ship. Then, just a few days before the surrender of Earth, a squad of alien infiltrators planted a plasma bomb in the city center. A team of XCOM soldiers attempted to defuse the weapon, but they were too late. Kanehoe was annihilated in a single blast.

These days, all that remained of the town as a shallow crater, roughly four miles wide and about fifty feet deep. It was also slowly filling with seawater. A salty swamp occupied the deepest parts of the crater, about two miles away from the rim. In the near future, this place might become Oahu’s newest harbor. But tonight, it was a meeting place.

As she clambered out of the truck, Chihiro saw that some two hundred Humans and aliens were sitting together on the rim of the crater, looking down on something happening below them. Excited chatter filled the air, as did a general sense of apprehension. Following a pair of Mutons up the hill, Chihiro looked into the Kanehoe Crater and gasped.

Someone had clearly spent the past day, and perhaps more, carving an intricate image into the surface of the crater. Narrow trenches and piles of dirt had been arranged across nearly five hundred yards of ground, and to top it all off, a small bonfire had been lit at the intersection of several of these lines. As her eyes adjusted to the growing darkness, Chihiro realized exactly what this massive drawing was:

A starchart had been carved into the ground, turning the crater floor into a map of Human-controlled space and the surrounding Galactic plane. An arrow pointed towards the bonfire itself and the words “You are here” were written in the sand below it. Chihiro looked up into the night sky and started matching stars to their respective points on the big map in front of her. As Chihiro sat down between a Levakian female and a pair of Assurian men, a voice called out from the darkness, startling the group.

“Welcome, friends! On behalf of Jericho herself, we are pleased you could come!”

Duane Gardner and Violet finally appeared.

Both Templars looked different from when Chihiro had last seen them on Lanai Island. Violet (Assuming this wasn’t Akira in disguise) had radically changed her appearance. She had shaved the sides of her head, giving herself a punkish mohawk hairstyle and revealing the full extent of the purple tattoo on the right side of her face. The ink splotch wrapped all the way around to the back of her head, and under this lighting, it looked more like a scar or a burn.

Duane, meanwhile, had the look of someone who had decided that it was time to get serious. While he wasn’t wearing the typical Templar body armor, he was wearing a pair of Celestial Gauntlets, which crackled and hummed in tune with the nearby bonfire. Chihiro remembered Mira’s instructions clearly: Be patient and wait. See if Duane volunteered the knowledge on his own before trying to extract it, and avoid direct contact with Violet until her identity was confirmed.

Duane addressed the gathering:

“My friends, you have heard the call and answered! Jericho is on her way home to us now, yet the forces she will bring with her are not enough to vanquish the Beast! We will need to contribute all we can to the final effort. Every day, more and more alien ships arrive at Earth, and our numbers are bolstered further! But there is still so much we can do!”

Violet pulled a burning tree branch from the fire. Holding it over her head, she marched out to one specific point on the map and stood still.

“According to reports from the newest arrivals,” Violet spoke to the assembled group, “Jericho and her allies were last seen here in Abbasid, just beyond the Galactic Core.”

Violet planted her torch in the ground and then took a few steps back.

“Eyewitness reports suggest the Father of the Beast is also traveling towards Earth, but it’s moving much more slowly.” She continued. “A group of Hiigaran flyboys who arrived the other day tell us that Jericho will return to Earth sometime in late July, and that the Beast will arrive a few days later. This leaves us with only a short time to prepare.”

“Prepare for what?” A Partogan asked.

Duane raised one hand and pointed towards the southern horizon.

“I have learned an important truth.” Duane said. “The Deep One, the creature responsible for the attacks on our islands and coastlines, must be defeated before Jericho returns home! I was told by an ally who has been fighting this war far longer than any of us!”

Chihiro sat up, excited! This was it! She was certain that Duane was about to reveal he had spoken to Akira! But then…

Himawari began to cry!

The infant’s wails drowned out the sound of Duane’s voice! Flustered, Chihiro tried to quickly find out what had upset her daughter as well as silence her. To make matters worse, any chance of hearing Duane’s speech was shut down by the reactions of those around her. Several Humans and Sectoids demanded Chihiro silence her baby using particularly rude language. A Hybrid dressed in Skirmisher armor stood up and shuffled towards another area of the crater, causing other group attendees to complain at his behavior. There was also an unexpected show of generosity as well. The lioness sitting next to Chihiro lay down on all fours and put her head in Chihiro’s lap, gently nuzzling Himawari with her big feline nose. Then the lioness began to make a low rumbling noise that sounded a little like purring. Himawari hiccupped and rolled over in her mother’s lap, leaning against the lioness’ warm body and falling silent once more. The combination of warm fur and the gentle rumble had lulled the baby right back to sleep. By the time order was restored, Duane had moved on to another point of discussion.

“… My comrades are able to provide the equipment and training you need to do your part in the coming battle. The Deep One may be frightening, but it is not an Elder. It is a creature of flesh and blood, and such creatures can be killed just like any other…”

Chihiro quietly cursed to herself. She knew she had just missed something important. Just when she was thinking about using Psionics to forcefully extract the crucial knowledge from Duane, she felt a dull sensation roll over her body. Duane and Violet both fell silent as a Psionic Blackout engulfed across the Progeny meeting! Sectoids and Vanians alike seemed to be on the verge of panic as their Gift shut down!

“Please, everyone! Remain calm!” Duane addressed the crowd. “The Blackout will end momentarily!”

Knowing that this might just be her only chance to act without being caught, Chihiro picked a target at random!

Eenie… meanie… miney… you!

Without any reason or justification, Chihiro picked Duane. When her Gift came back, she would have mere seconds to infiltrate his mind and gather information before he started putting his own defenses back up. The Levakian sensed Chihiro becoming tense and started to purr a little more loudly.

“Be calm.” The Levakian rumbled. “It will pass sooner than you know.”

Seconds went by. Himawari woke up and started babbling. A Human, several Sectoids, and a few Hybrids started shouting at Duane and Violet, demanding an explanation for the blackouts. Both Templars put their hands up and tried to calm the crowd. Chihiro focused her mind exclusively on Duane. Every second, she renewed her attempts to read his mind. Himawari almost broke her mother’s focus by sitting upright and trying to hug the lioness. But then… The Gift came back, and Chihiro launched her consciousness into Duane’s at full intensity!

Chihiro was inside of Duane’s mind for all of two seconds! In that time, she was presented with a nightmarish vision:

Duane stood alone on a battlefield. The skies were filled with smoke and embers, while around him, the broken bodies of countless soldiers lay strewn about in a sea of blood. Most of the corpses were still fresh and warm. Gathering his willpower, Duane used his Gift to extract the last living energy from the fallen, leaving the dead cold and stiff, as though the battlefield was several years old. As he drew strength from those who had fallen in battle, Duane left a path of decay behind him. His powers grew and amplified, exactly the same way Jericho’s could… except he drew energy from a much darker source. Blood dried, bones bleached, and color faded as Duane fed on Death itself, becoming strong and powerful; enough even to fight the Deep One.

Feeling not unlike like a snapped rubber band, Chihiro retreated from Duane’s mind and quickly shielded herself from mental probing. Himawari sensed the sudden change in her mother’s demeanor, as did the friendly Levakian. Both lioness and infant looked up at Chihiro.

“Is everything alright?” The Levakian asked.

“No.” Chihiro admitted. “I don’t think it is.”

Duane and Violet also seemed to have been put on alert. They looked at one another anxiously before trying to draw the meeting to a close.

“Of course, we are not ADVENT. We will not force you to join this battle.” Violet said to the group. “Jericho volunteered herself for this fight, so therefore, the Progeny will only accept volunteers as well. Any who do not wish to join tonight are free to leave, and if you change your mind, you will always be welcome.”

“So,” Violet picked up her torch. “Who will join the Progeny tonight? Who will answer Jericho’s call and fight for her?”



The next day, halfway around the world, Mira Mihaka received a surprise phone call from Chihiro. Mira quickly checked her calendar and realized Chihiro was reporting in far earlier than planned. Hoping that Chihiro was going to deliver some useful intel, she answered the call right away. Mira never got the chance to say “Hello.” Instead, she was taken by surprise as Chihiro screamed across the airwaves:

“MIRA! AKIRA’S PLANNING A MASSACRE! SHE’S GONNA KILL ‘EM ALL!!”


 
Last edited:

volksmarschall

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Welcome back. Gripping return! Nightmares and utterances of death are always enticing and foreboding.
 

HistoryDude

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Well... that was a twist.

Duane draws power from deaths?

Why does Chihiro think that Akira’s planning a massacre? How does she know that that wasn’t a memory?

Also, what’ll happen when Blake and the Stormbreakers in space return?
 

Macavity116

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Welcome back. Gripping return! Nightmares and utterances of death are always enticing and foreboding.
Glad to hear you got a kick of out the new chapter! It's good to be back..


Duane draws power from deaths?
Jericho replenishes her power by drawing energy from life.
Duane can restore his lost Gift as well, but by siphoning energy off the recently deceased. He's a Psionic vulture!


Why does Chihiro think that Akira’s planning a massacre? How does she know that that wasn’t a memory?
Chihiro is under the impression that Violet is a disguised Akira, and that this nightmarish "idea" was planted in Duane's mind by her. We won't get to see if her guess was correct until Chapter 37: The Composer of Strands.


Also, what’ll happen when Blake and the Stormbreakers in space return?
Blake's team will return to Earth during the events of Chapters 38 and 39. (Imposed Cosmos & Pale Blue Dot, respectively)

According to my notes, the Battle of Barnard's Star will happen first, followed by the first meeting of the Big Three. (Jericho, Mira, and Kendra all in one place together.) Then Blake and his team will return to Earth.
 
Chapter 36: The Galactic Front Line

Macavity116

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Chapter Thirty-Six
The Galactic Front Line


Caption said:
Triple Alliance forces re-assemble over the Tomb World Aoraki following the loss of Partoga. The Partogan Government relocated here as well, making Aoraki, at least temporarily, the new Capitol of the Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth. This picture is slightly erroneous, depicting Kailani Kalili as the commanding officer of the Kakama instead of Manako Ranginui.
Monday, April 28, 2036 – 11:00am
Mahurangi City, Aoraki, Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth


There had only been one time in her life that Jericho had truly, genuinely fallen in love. It had been six years ago, but Jericho’s memory was sharp. She recognized that uncomfortable lurch in her stomach right away, and knew that while this wasn’t the real thing, it was enough to set off several alarms in the back of her mind.

The Vanian Conclave of Telepaths did not speak to her. Their mastery of the Gift precluded the need for spoken words. In fact, when Jericho and the Ranginui twins had arrived outside of what had once been a Partogan “Church of the Mountain” they didn’t need to knock on the door. The Vanians had detected their presence and invited them in, all with telepathy.

The Mahurangi Church of the Mountain had been completely overhauled to accommodate its new tenants. Massive nests made from paper and twine hugged the dark corners, guarded by a few peahens; while nearly a dozen peacocks, their colors ranging across the entire spectrum, roosted in the rafters up above.

The instant she’d stepped inside, Jericho felt the powerful allure of the Vanians, manifesting itself as intense physical attraction. For a brief moment, Jericho completely forgot the name of that Hawaiian boy she’d spent her early teen years with, and wondered to herself exactly where these magnificent birds had been her whole life. But then she received a telepathic sting from Makara, causing just enough pain to break the spell. Blushing so much her face turned red, Jericho looked at the floor, which was covered in fallen feathers… such beautiful feathers.

This is the power of the Vanians. Makara’s telepathic voice explained. At least, as far as we know. Hopefully we’ll get some answers today.

Manako advanced to the altar, where a particularly large Vanian male was roosting. The old peacock raised his tailfeathers and unfurled the train to full size. A marvelous hemisphere of yellow and gold eyes, set on a luminescent crimson backdrop, looked down on the male Ranginui twin. Manako slowly got down on one knee in front of the altar; Makara and Jericho both did the same.

“Grand Master Jamadagni, I apologize for disturbing you a second time.” Manako spoke out loud. “But I have a question of grave importance that I could not leave unspoken.”

The Vanian did not respond. Instead, Jericho became aware of the fact that the whole room was rapidly filling with Psionic energy as the entire Conclave of Telepaths acted together! Makara grabbed Jericho by the hand and shook her head.

“Don’t fight.”

At once, all twenty-five members of the Conclave of Telepaths read the minds of Jericho, Manako, and Makara. But it wasn’t the kind of violent “penetration” Jericho had experienced throughout her life. This time, it felt more like she was being encouraged to open up and proceed at her own pace. The Vanians patiently waited while Jericho guided them through her own mind to the crucial memories she wanted them to see and experience.

Agamemnon, the mysterious entity that had appeared over both Hiigara and Partoga, as well as several Psionic blackouts flitted through Jericho’s mind. At the last moment, she also presented the cryptic final words of the Angelis Ethereal before the Vanians withdrew from her own mind as well as those of Manako and Makara.

The church remained as silent as the tomb, but now the Conclave turned their attention towards one another. Jericho knew she had to wait silently while the Vanians held a silent telepathic conversation with one another. The air around her shimmered and made dull thudding noises as the Conclave engaged with one another. Finally, Grand Master Jamadagni spoke to the trio.

“Your stories, and your question, are but fragments of a much darker whole, of a phenomenon we have only begun to suspect. These bouts of silence, ‘blackouts,’ as you call them, are but the beginning of something far greater and more consequential.”

Jamadagni opened his wings wide and flew off the altar! Soaring through the dimly-lit church, he looked like great kite as he glided to a near soundless landing in front of Jericho. The pale Aoraki sunlight seemed to catch around the old peacock and give him a small halo of rainbow light. Jericho couldn’t help but be transfixed.

“Are you She-of-the-Void?” Jamadagni asked. “The one who silenced the corrupted angels?”

Corrupted angels? What was he talking about? When Jericho didn’t answer right away, Makara hissed:

“He’s talking about the Elders you defeated!”

“Oh!” Jericho replied. “Yes, I did.”

The old Vanian bowed his head, and a translucent shape began to separate from his body! Jericho startled, but Manako and Makara both grabbed her and whispered:

“Stop! It’s friendly!”

A Psionic entity had separated from Jamadagni! Hovering in midair behind him, Jericho got the distinct impression that she was looking at some kind of golden magical jellyfish! It had a big, bulbous head and four spindly arms. The creature’s legs were as long as its torso, and the angelic halo seemed to have transferred from the now-limp Vanian to this new being. Now that Jericho had a chance to look at it clearly, she realized that this was what an Ethereal looked like without its host body.

“Do not be alarmed.” The Ethereal said to Jericho. “I am not one of my misguided siblings.”

“Who are you, then?” Jericho couldn’t help letting her mouth fall open.

“We prefer to be given names.” The Ethereal answered. It looked at Jericho in an expectant way. “My host refers to me as Jatayu. You may derive a name for me from your own language.”

Realizing that the Ethereal was expecting Jericho to give it a name, she screwed up her mind in thought. After a moment, Jericho remembered how Agamemnon had named itself after intruding on Blake’s mind. Blake had a head for Greek mythology, didn’t he? Looking back at this golden Ethereal again, Jericho said:

“Well, you kinda remind me of the sun on my Homeworld, so I guess I’ll call you Apollo. Is that okay?”

The Ethereal named Apollo nodded in acceptance.

“Jericho.” He said. “You seek to know the cause of the Psionic Blackouts. It will take myself and the Conclave far too long to explain the situation and its grave implications. You must be shown; there is only one among us who can do that, and they cannot do it here. Will you join us in a séance?”

A séance?

Jericho had been expecting a lot, but not this. She had no idea how a séance was going to show her what was wrong with Psionics these days, but a nagging feeling in the back of her mind told her to just go with it.

While Jericho, the Ranginui twins, and the Conclave of Telepaths gathered around the altar, the Ethereal Apollo merged with his host again and Jamadagni used telekinesis to summon a small leather pouch from one of the nearby nests and a large potted plant from the doorway.

“Powdered Zro.” Jamadagni gestured to the pouch. “To help us gain entry, and fresh Harakeke to help us recover.”

Manako and Makara reached into the ceramic pot and recovered several dead leaves from the bottom. Then, to Jericho’s absolute surprise, both twins produced small pieces of paper from their pockets and used an Uka coin to crush the leaves before rolling the leaves into the paper.

“You’re rolling cigarettes!?” Jericho gasped. “Are we about to get high or something?”

Both twins looked at one another and laughed.

“Is that what Humans call it?” Manako asked, “Really?”

“Yeah, they do.” Makara chuckled before addressing Jericho. “Trust me, you’ve never gotten as high as where we’re going. These are just to help us come back down again. Hold onto me and don’t let go.”

Makara grabbed hold of Jericho as Psionic energy began to fill the room again, this time more chaotic! Jamadagni opened the small pouch and tipped it over! A vortex of wind caught the fine blue powder and flung it into every corner of the room! Jericho couldn’t help herself but inhale!

The compound activated the instant it touched Jericho’s skin, and its effects quadrupled as it went up her nose! Jericho was bowled over by a speeding train of light and sound and shadows and silence! The whole world fell away below her and the sky turned black! Jericho tried to move her arms but couldn’t! It was as though every atom in her body was vibrating out of control as she rocketed out of normal space entirely!

Jericho was in Hyperspace just long enough to comprehend that she was actually there. She heard the soft music of the solar winds all around her and the chime-like tones of atoms striking one another. The song of Hyperspace was lost after just the shortest of moments as Jericho ascended higher and higher until she breached one last layer between planes of existence like a rock breaches a calm surface of water! Time and space splashed all around Jericho as she rematerialized!

Manako, Makara, and the Conclave of Telepaths had arrived first, and the twins offered to help her up.


Caption said:
The Shroud, despoiled and ruined, is in a rapidly deteriorating state.
It took Jericho a few moments to get her bearings. She had arrived in a place that was both foreign and strangely familiar. Jericho stood on the precipice, at the edge of this strange new realm for a moment, overlooking a vast ocean of swirling color and shadow. Then Jericho remembered: There are no oceans on Aoraki! Where the hell was she?

Someone gently tapped Jericho on the shoulder. Looking around, she saw that Manako and Makara were trying to get her attention.

“This…” Manako gestured around him, “Is the Shroud.”

It wasn’t very impressive. Jericho got the sense that she had just arrived on another Tomb World like Aoraki. The skies were a sickly shade of purple and any light that came through was dull and cold. The surrounding terrain reminded Jericho of the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia, nothing but dust and rock as far as the eye could see. A pale fog gave the whole realm an eerie look, like a graveyard in the early morning.

“What am I supposed to see here?” Jericho asked the group.

“A lot more than you’re seeing now.” Makara admitted. “It was the Conclave of Telepaths, over three thousand years ago, who discovered the Shroud.”

Grand Master Jamadangi spoke for the group:

“Our ancestors first discovered the connection between the Shroud and our Galaxy.” He said. “Gifted beings like ourselves are born with an innate connection to this place. It is the source of all Psionic power in the Galaxy. This is where the Gift comes from.”

Looking around, Jericho took in the general state of disarray the Shroud appeared to be in. Even a newcomer couldn’t ignore the general sense of disruption that hung in the air. Behind her, the Ethereal Apollo separated from its host once more and looked around the ruined realm.

“The Shroud was despoiled recently.” Apollo said. “This damage is unlike anything inflicted before.”

“So, the Shroud is where the Gift comes from.” Jericho said thoughtfully. “If there’s something wrong with this place, would it effect Gifted people in the Galaxy?”

“Yes.” Jamadangi/Apollo replied. “The disruption of the Shroud is the source of your Psionic Blackouts in normal space.”

“So, what happened here? Can we fix it?”

“Until you arrived, we did not know the answer.” Jamadangi admitted. “But once we learned your story, and understood what you saw and did on your world, our patron was finally able to craft an explanation.”

“And who is your patron?” The words were barely out of Jericho’s mouth when she finally remembered Mira Mihaka’s description of the Shroud, told to her almost a year ago.

“Beings made from Psionic energy, who influence and manipulate our world through others.” Mira had said. “The creatures of the Shroud have power unlike anything you or I have ever seen. The Elders might not even compare to these things.”

With those thoughts in mind, what happened next only came as a small surprise.

A new presence made itself known. Until now, it had been disbursed throughout the twenty-five Vanians and one Ethereal who made up the Conclave of Telepaths, but now it reformed and made itself whole once more, coming together just in front of Jericho.

The vaguely Human-like shape turned its head to look at her, and Jericho felt a serious pulling sensation in her gut. For just a few moments, Jericho was blinded by attraction, unable to think about anything other than how handsome and good-looking this thing was. It helped that she instantly knew what to call it, despite having never encountered this entity before.

The Instrument of Desire looked away from Jericho and surveyed the terrain around it. Its expression grew mournful.

“Three thousand years after I left this place, I return to the confirmation I have feared and dreaded for so long.” Said the Instrument of Desire. “At long last, the Cycle has reached its end.”

The Instrument of Desire pointed towards the horizon. Jericho, the Ranginui twins, and the Conclave all looked out over a barren wasteland that seemed to go on for eternity.

“We have reached a point of no return.” The Shroud-Being said, “Where these events can no longer repeat themselves.”

“The Paradox.” Jericho murmured to herself. “Akira.”

“Her own meddling with time has brought this to pass.” The Instrument of Desire said. “Her efforts to create more desirable timeline have instead tied the fate of both the Devourer and the Galaxy to her own.”

The Instrument of Desire drew Jericho’s attention to a large divot in the surface that only kind of passed for “the ground” where something had been scooped up and removed from the Shroud with incredible force.

“The Devourer has stolen the strongest and most powerful of my kin.” It said. “Without us to maintain this realm, it will slowly drain away until nothing remains. Once this realm is gone, so too will be our power and influence.”

So, that was it. Manako, Makara, and Jericho all gave one another grim looks. This was the endgame! The Shroud was being drained. This was why Psionics seemed to be on the fritz! This was why Blackouts were happening, and once the Shroud was rendered completely empty…

“What’ll happen once the Shroud is empty?” Manako asked. “How will this affect those with the Gift back home?”

Grand Master Jamadangi replied, speaking through the Ethereal Apollo:

“All those blessed with the Gift are dependent upon the Shroud. It is the wellspring from which all Psionic energy originates.”

“So, if this place is completely drained…” Jericho’s voice trailed off, the dark implications leaving her stunned. Makara finished the hypothesis:

“Soon, there will be no Gift for anyone. Psionics will be extinguished!”

“Everyone will lose their powers.” Jericho gasped. “You, me, Akira, and… what’ll happen to Psionic life forms? The Ethereals? The Shroud-Beings? What about….”

A powerful thought suddenly hit Jericho. It was something that should have crossed her mind the instant the Instrument of Desire had mentioned the Shroud being drained. When the realization finally hit Jericho, it did so with the force of a speeding truck!

“The Trinity!”

As Jericho breathed the name of Earth’s last best hope, the dark realization started to make its way through the group. Manako, Makara, and the entire Conclave all knew that Jericho had just stumbled upon the single biggest obstacle between here and victory over the Beast. The Trinity was a Psionic weapon! Without the Shroud, it would be useless! Jericho felt the panic rising in her as she looked back at the Instrument of Desire.

“So, what are we supposed to do now?” Jericho’s voice was full of fear. “How are we supposed to kill the Beast if we can’t use the Gift!?”

“A solution does exist.” The Instrument offered. “But it will come at a great cost.”

Jericho bit her lip.

“Alright, I’m listening…”



Leaving the Shroud was just as traumatic as entering it. As she returned to the Mahurangi church on Aoraki, Jericho’s ears were assaulted by a cacophony of sound and light! Realizing how oversensitive her eyes and ears had become, Jericho jammed her eyes shut and covered her ears, only acknowledging the world around her when something that smelled absolutely godawful was shoved in her face.

“Just take a couple of puffs. It’ll knock down the Zro effects.” Manako was offering a homemade cigarette, the end already lit. “Harakeke. It suppresses the Gift and cancels out Zro effects. Plus, it helps clear the head after a trip into the Shroud.”

Having never smoked anything in her life before this point, Jericho had an extremely negative reaction to the Harakeke cigarette on the first puff! Eyes watering, lungs burning, coughing and retching, Jericho hunched over, expecting to throw up at any moment. This turned out to be for the best, because as soon as Jericho bent forward, a blue-and-red blur soared right over her head!

Reepi Imvu, looking more enraged than Jericho had ever seen him before, landed in front of the Ranginui twins, both of whom were trying to extinguish their Harakeke cigarettes. Reepi looked back and forth between the twins and the Conclave of Telepaths twice, ruffled his feathers, and then launched into a tirade.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING WITH THEM!?”

Reepi gestured to the Conclave with one wing. Several peacocks and peahens squawked angrily.

“They offered to help us.” Makara waved a wisp of smoke away from her face. “And we needed their help anyway.”

“Their help!?” Reepi’s voice was now so high-pitched that Jericho’s ears were throbbing. “These demon-lovers sold my people’s souls to the Shroud! I told you we can’t trust them!”

Jericho quickly looked at Manako, who shook his head in frustration.

“Alright, who wants to tell him about the Shroud?”

“I’ll do it.” Makara grumbled. “He’s less likely to take my head off.”

Reepi swept his wings wide and launched himself across the room and onto Makara’s shoulder in a matter of seconds. The angry peacock pressed his little head to the side of Makara’s face.

“Tell me what about the Shroud?”



Monday, April 28, 2036 – 11:00am
Mahurangi City, Aoraki, Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth



After nearly five weeks on the dark, cold, and dusty world of Aoraki, I wanted to go home.

We had been here ever since our forced retreat from Partoga. Losing its capital to the enemy had nearly been a death blow to the Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth. As far as anyone knew, Partoga hadn’t actually fallen. The local defense force was putting up one hell of a fight, and was doing their best to stop the virus from spreading across the planet. Unfortunately, the enemy force was being augmented with some kind of Psionic entity. Manifesting itself as a swirling spectral mass, the Psionic creature was raining death and destruction on Partoga. If reports were to be belived, it had wiped entire cities off the face of the planet, leaving only a sickly purple fog behind. Partoga had become a killing field, and most Galactic news agencies predicted that the planet could hold out for only a few months before falling.

Queen Kendra and her National Assembly had set up a new center of government on Aoraki and were doing their best to re-establish control over their country and military, but it was difficult going. Partoga had been the core of one of the Galaxy’s largest and most powerful empires. Without it, communications and logistics had been severely disrupted, and the entire Commonwealth was in disarray.

Over the past couple of weeks, soldiers and starships of both the Commonwealth and the Triple Alliance had been gathering at the Positive Control Point, a Starbase not too far from here. At night, we could see the massive armada flickering in the starfield up above us.

The Stormbreakers had been sidelined during all of this, and none of us were happy about it. Tsubaki and Soylent were quite angry with me these days. They had both opposed detouring to Partoga and were very upset with the fact that they could have been home by now. Kathleen and Hal were stressed out about being forced to stay idle while the Beast was making its way towards Earth. Kathleen’s hair had even started to turn grey. Sarah Harris didn’t spend much time with us, instead choosing to hang out with Temirzhan for hours at a time.

Yukiko and Jericho spent each and every day at the Commonwealth National Assembly, trying to convince them to allow the Kakama to continue its journey towards Earth. Unfortunately, Queen Kendra insisted on us traveling alongside a Triple Alliance armada, and she continued to gather her forces while we were forced to just sit and wait.

We passed our time on Aoraki by training and mingling with our hosts. We became proficient in the operation of the Kakama’s systems, and after some time, Manako allowed each of us in turn to take command of the ship and fly a lap around Aoraki. I’ve got to admit, flying in the Captain’s chair was more fun than I was expecting. Jericho also seemed to get a kick out of it.

On Aoraki, Jericho was a celebrity. Her news interview on Hiigara had propagated throughout the Galaxy before the Beast had knocked out the Hyperwave Network, so no matter where we went on the planet, people recognized us. Assurians and Partogans bowed their heads whenever they saw Jericho, and the little reptilian Kelt people got so excited that they would bounce up and down on their feet. On a few occasions, Triple Alliance military leaders would pull Jericho aside to ask her questions. She told us later that they were seeking advice on large-scale Psionic warfare.

“They want to copy the Psionic shields the Beast used against us at Hiigara.” Jericho informed us. “Apparently they’re effective against the Psionic entity that’s been following Agamemnon around.”

People wanted to talk to Jericho about everything… and boy, do I mean everything. A Partogan clergyman (from a group of people who apparently worshipped a mountain) asked Jericho a lot of questions about what mountains on Earth are like. I swear I saw the mountain priest salivate when Jericho mentioned that her homeland, Hawaii, was created by a volcano.

Local children wanted to hear about more of Jericho’s battles and adventures. Jericho talked the ears off anyone who asked, and the rest of the Squad was able to take over for her whenever she lost her voice. Young Levakians in particular wanted to hear about the big fight in the Crypt of the Elders; and a pair of young lions confirmed to me that as far as anyone knew, Jericho was the only person in Galactic history to kill more than one Ethereal, let alone twenty-six in a single fight!

About a month after we had arrived on Aoraki, a few young Assurian men accosted Jericho while we were in downtown Mahurangi, shopping around for some spare parts for the Kakama. They made a big show of offering Jericho ceremonial weapons, ranging from swords to knives and a beautiful-looking pistol. According to Adil and Temirzhan, the two Assurians on our crew, the gift of a weapon is supposed to signal the beginning of a courtship on Assuria. Temirzhan told Jericho she needed to politely refuse each offering, lest these Assurian suitors start bragging to the entire Galaxy that they were engaged to her.

Honestly, we could have handled the situation on our own. By this point in the journey, we’d pretty much mastered the Galactic Common language, and the entire squad was on hand to give Jericho backup if she really needed it; but nonetheless, a huge Levakian male with brown fur and a black mane stepped between ourselves and the “suitors” and intervened on Jericho’s behalf. Once he intimidated the Assurians into leaving, the brown lion introduced himself as Madoda, the commanding officer of the HMS Tryna. Jericho responded as though she’d heard this name before.

“Madoda, huh? Actually, I wanted to talk to you about your ship.” Jericho said when Madoda finished. “If you have the time, could we arrange a meeting?”

Madoda agreed, and then he turned to me.

“I am told that you are her commander, are you not?” the lion asked.

“Uh, I’m her Squad Leader.” I answered.

“Very well.” Madoda said. “If you will allow me to confer with your soldier, I shall arrange for you a visit with my daughter in return.”

I wasn’t interested in meeting Madoda’s daughter, and I felt the whole idea kind of unnecessary, but before I could say this, Sarah nudged me in the ribs and hissed:

“Levakians are extremely protective of their pride! Especially the females! He thinks the Squad is your pride, and you gave him permission to talk to Jericho! He’s just returning the favor! Just go with it!”

Keeping my face passive, I politely replied that I’d be happy to meet Madoda’s daughter.



As it turned out, though, I’d already met her once without realizing it. The Tryna commander’s cub was in fact the Gifted Levakian known as Nomsa. She was hanging out with the same group of youngsters I’d seen on Partoga: an adolescent lioness with golden brown fur and two Partogan teenagers. Nomsa seemed happy for the company, and she tried to take me to Mahurangi City Park alone, but her three companions insisted on coming along. It seemed as though they too were desperate for someone to talk with, so we all wandered through the park together.

It was a very enlightening visit. Nomsa (albeit reluctantly) introduced me to her three compatriots. The Levakian was named Thabisa, and had been born on a distant planet named Ninigai. The two Partogan girls were called Ihiko Taimana and Lani Ririnui. Ihiko was from a planet named Hokianga that had been conquered by the Beast several years ago. Lani was from the Partogan Homeworld and claimed to be distantly related to some historical figure whose name I failed to catch. These four young adults had been brought together because the Commonwealth government had named them “Queen Candidates.”

“Her Majesty is over one-hundred-twenty years old.” Ihiko said. “When she… uh, leaves us… we’ll be running against each other in the Royal Election. Whoever wins will be the next Queen.”

“Because of the war, her Majesty wanted all of the candidates picked up early and held somewhere safe.” Thabisa said. “I haven’t seen my pride in over a year. I don’t think any of us have seen our families for some time.”

“What did all of you do before getting picked up?” I asked.

“Nomsa and I were training for the Royal Navy.” Thabisa answered. “We’re both Ensigns.”

“I was working in a hospital here on Aoraki.” Ihiko said. “I volunteered to help people from my Homeworld.”

“I was scrapping shipwrecks on the Galactic Front Line.” Lani finished. “Saved one Partogan crew, and their Captain sponsored me for Queen.”

“The Galactic Front Line?” I repeated. “You’ve seen it?”

“Trust me, Human.” Nomsa answered darkly. “If you wanna go home, you’re gonna go through it.”



Thursday, May 1, 2036 – 4:00pm
The Positive Control Point, Hakihea Star System, Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth



About eighty-million miles away from the planet Aoraki, a large space station zipped around the Hakihea star in a close orbit. The station itself seemed to shimmer in the bluish-white aura of its star, but on closer inspection, one could see that the station itself was surrounded on all sides by a vast armada of warships. Assembled from all over the Galaxy, nearly every spacefaring civilization still capable of fighting was represented here.

Blorg friendships and Micore hiveships flew in formation alongside Hiigaran, Levakian, Taiidan, and Vanian battle fleets. Vaygr crusades, Kelt defense ships, and Partogan battlecruisers transferred shuttlecraft between one another while Voor, Scyldari, and Kel-Azan flotillas joined the armada as well.

Leaders and representatives gathered inside of the station’s main assembly hall, where the other Stormbreakers and myself were getting crowded together as the room began to fill up. On an elevated platform at the far end of the hall, a large map of the Galaxy could be seen, and the situation appeared to be even more dire than ever.




The best way I can describe the spread of the Beast throughout the Galaxy is to compare it to a cancer spreading to a person’s lymph nodes. The space surrounding every Progenitor Hyperspace Gate was now fully infected, making the Galaxy look as though it had chicken pox. To make matters even worse, the main blob of enemy territory had grown, distending and distorting the Galactic Front Line. There were now hundreds of salients and outright breaks in the line, where the enemy was breaking through and pushing the offensive.

Several Partogan leaders arrived through a rear door and took their places on the platform. Manako and Makara Ranginui were the youngest leaders in the group. Queen Kendra was the oldest, and she was riding in a wheelchair that was being pushed along by an old man who appeared to be roughly the same age as her. The old man’s most striking feature was his right arm, which had been amputated at the elbow. The unused sleeve of his outfit was pinned to his chest, making it appear as though he was rendering an eternal salute. The elderly gentleman’s features seemed vaguely familiar, and I wondered if he was somehow related to Manako and Makara. Jericho was with them, wearing a blue and black XCOM uniform to stand out from the group. A rousing chorus of “Kia roa te Kuini!” went up around the assembly hall as Kendra waved her hand in greeting. I didn’t need Sarah to tell me how to say “Long live the Queen” in Partogan.

Calling out for quiet, Kendra began to speak:

“Permit me to use a Human expression.” the old Queen began. “Our enemy has tipped their hand. Both the Father and Mother of the Beast have been spotted by our advance recon units. They are moving. Commonwealth Military Intelligence predicts the Beast is going to pass through the Galactic Front Line, on a path that leads directly to Earth.”

A Levakian raised his paw.

“Why through the GFL? That’s where our resistance will be the strongest.”

“That’s also where the enemy can infect the most ships.” Makara Ranginui said. “Fleet Intelligence confirms that Beast ships have been disengaging from fights all across the inner rim and are moving to fall in line with Inari and his mate. The Beast is assembling a fleet as it moves, which is almost certainly why the enemy appears to be moving at half speed.”

“How large is the enemy fleet is at present?” Commodore Madoda asked.

“At this time, Taiidani scouts report the enemy fleet to be comprised of approximately seven-hundred-fifty-thousand ships, but that number is increasing every moment as more infected vessels fall into line.” Manako replied.

Anxious and nervous chatter filled the room as this development was processed by the gathered military leaders.

“Do we have any predictions for how large the enemy fleet might grow?” A Hiigaran asked, “Or when they’ll arrive at Earth?”

Rapata Ranginui, Manako’s father, took over. His tone of voice was very grim:

“We’ve analyzed all combat Intel about infected ships in or near the enemy’s flightpath.” Rapata said. “If the enemy maintains their present course and speed, they’ll arrive over Earth sometime in early Akuhata.”

“August.” Sarah translated for us.

“However, once the enemy hits the Galactic Front Line, we might be able to slow them down, possibly even delay their arrival for up to a month.” Rapata continued. “As far as enemy strength is concerned, however… Strategic projections are looking bleak. If the Beast continues to pull its own ships out of formation to escort the Father and Mother, and build new ships as well, the enemy fleet will number approximately eight million ships on the day it reaches Earth.”

I felt all the wind go out of my lungs when I heard that. Next to me, Tsubaki let out a terrified squeak and Hal moaned.

“How the hell are we supposed to fight that kind of force!?” Hal said.

“Eight million ships!?” A Blorg admiral repeated. “That’s impossible!”

“Why not!?” Jericho’s voice, psionically amplified, made itself heard across the room. All eyes came to rest on her. “Eight million? That’s one ship for every five hundred people on Earth. If I was the Beast, that would be like going to a big banquet dinner!”

“There is something else to consider.” Queen Kendra added. “The Beast is now moving like a Takea shark toward the smell of blood in the water. For the first time in this war, we know exactly where the enemy will be, and what kind of force they are bringing along. We have the advantage. We must translocate this armada to Earth with best possible speed!”

Makara clicked a remote, and a holographic yellow line was traced onto the Galactic map behind her. Gasps went up around the room as everyone realized what Makara was proposing:

“I have calculated this route will get us to Earth before the Beast. The trouble is that it will require us to punch through the Galactic Front Line at almost the same spot as the enemy will. There is a decent chance that we will intercept the Mothership and Fathership. If that happens, we might be able to cut the head off this creature once and for all!”

Again, the nervous chatter. A Micore droid stepped into the center of the assembly hall and analyzed the Galactic map in closer detail. After a moment, the droid said:

“To move this fleet over four thousand lightyears to Sol, it will require the entire annual fuel production output of the United States of Assuria and the Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth combined. The Triple Alliance stockpile of starship fuel, which is already dangerously low, will be completely exhausted. Ruler Kendra, how do you intend to prosecute the war after this campaign to Earth?”

Kendra, her family, and advisors all gave one another nervous looks. Finally, Manako spoke up:

“Considering the likely scale of any direct engagement with Inari or its mate, I believe that afterward, neither side will be capable of offensive action for months if not years afterward. We’re talking about a battle of cataclysmic size, proportions, and destruction. We’re talking about the end of the war.”

Soylent raised his hand and asked:

“Do we have a plan to… you know… actually fight?”

“A strategy is being formulated.” Manako answered. “More information will be disseminated once we are underway, but I urge you not to worry. It’s going to be at least a month before we have to start worrying about the possibility of a confrontation.”

“There’s one last security concern we need to take care of.” Makara added. “This is a sensitive matter, so ship captains, you are not to tell your crews unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Both her Majesty and the National Assembly will be travelling with us.”

“The Human diplomat Takahashi has assured me that it will be possible to arrange a meeting between Human leadership and myself.” Kendra said. “I will meet our new allies and we will coordinate the assault on the Father and Mothership together.”

“But as far as the rest of the fleet is concerned, she isn’t here.” Manako told the group. “We’re going to lay down a false intel trail that suggests Her Majesty took the Tantomile and is coordinating a counteroffensive near Partoga. Hopefully, that will draw some of the enemy off and make this trip easier on all of us. Does anyone have any questions?”

“No sir!” Soylent yelled. “Just bloody anxious to get out there and whoop some ass!”

Chuckles and laughter rang out around the room. Queen Kendra grinned.

“You’ll get your chance, soldier. We all will. Dismissed!”



Saturday, May 10, 2036 – 3:00am
Naval Base Alpha, Taiidan Empire



Just like enemy, our own fleet got bigger as we moved through friendly territory. Hiigaran, Voor, Partogan, and Taiidani warships joined our armada as we looped up and around the Galactic Core. They also carried news from other parts of the Galaxy: The Father and Mother of the Beast had run into resistance along the western front of the Galactic Front Line. Micore, Vanian, Blorg, and Amadii warships had stonewalled the enemy for several days, pushing back the enemy’s ETA. As long as we didn’t stop for anything, there was now a very high chance that we would reach Earth before Agamemnon.

But that advantage didn’t last long. Once the Beast had fought its way past our western allies, the enemy force split in half. The Beast Mothership (along with a substantial escort) broke away from the main fleet and started speeding towards Earth at a much faster clip. Suddenly, an interception was back in the cards.

When our fleet stopped to refuel at a stellar fortress controlled by the Taiidan Republic, we received a very welcome addition to our side. Its arrival caught us all off-guard, and for very good reason. Naval Base Alpha was built in orbit of a black hole, and objects flying through the accretion disk was a regular sight that we quickly got used to. So when Tsubaki pointed out of a window on the Kakama’s bridge and said:

“Look, the black hole caught a small moon!”

I didn’t pay any mind. At least, not until Elsina casually peered out of the window and replied:

“That’s no moon. It’s a space station.”

I swear, so many people ran towards the starboard side of the ship, looking for a window, that the Kakama almost rolled over!

“That’s too big to be a space station!” Kathleen remarked.

“Just think, someone built that thing!” Jericho mused.

A starship, roughly the size of a dwarf planet, punched through the black hole’s accretion disk and moved to join our fleet. It was absolutely huge! Bigger even than the Mahuika or the Tryna! The comms network lit up as the new vessel called in to identify itself.

“Attention Triple Alliance fleet. This is the Taiidani mobile weapons platform Nomad Moon mark two. We’ve heard you are transporting Jericho to Earth. Request permission to join the fleet.”

“Granted.” Makara’s voice replied. “Assume patrol stance at the rear of the formation.”

My eyes were glued to the window while the Nomad Moon glided silently into the back of our formation. The ship was so massive that our entire fleet, which had hundreds of thousands of ships by now, could have fit inside of the Nomad Moon with room to spare.

“Hey!” I pointed to a spot just below the spherical battlestation. “What are those little things flying around the moon?”

Arzhang craned his long neck to look over my shoulder.

“Oh, those are Repulsor Cannons.” He explained. “They generate high-energy shockwaves that physically push enemy ships away from the emitter.”

Once the Nomad Moon joined our fleet, I think everyone felt a little safer about flying into enemy territory.



All told, it took us roughly two months to reach the Galactic Front Line from Aoraki, and that’s including the fact that we took shortcuts wherever possible. It was a huge help that we had recruited several Vaygr Crusades. They had the technology to quickly build and deploy their own Hyperspace Gates that weren’t dependent on the old Progenitor network.

While the Stormbreakers and I spent most of the journey aboard the Kakama, Jericho was extremely busy. She moved frequently from the Tryna to the Nomad Moon and back again. Oftentimes, she would return to the Kakama covered head to foot in soot, grime, and grease. Jericho would shower off, catch a full night’s sleep, and then return to whatever labor-intensive project was taking place aboard the two superweapons. Whenever I tried to ask what was going on, Jericho would just shake her head and say “Not yet.”

Leaping and bounding hundreds of light-years at a time, the Triple Alliance Armada powered towards Earth like a snowball. Meanwhile, in another arm of the Galaxy, the Beast Mothership continued to pull ahead of Agamemnon. It was becoming quite clear that the enemy was moving to intercept us.

Once the threat of a confrontation became clear, Jericho called for a leader’s meeting aboard the Tryna…



Thursday, July 3, 2036 – 2:00am
Corug-Tel System, Outskirts of Abassid, Hiigaran Empire



“Astynome.”

“What kind of name is that, Robinson?”

The assembled group of commanders and leaders looked around at me. We were in one of the Mahuika’s primary conference rooms, and I had just suggested a name for the Mothership of the Beast. Makara was standing in front of a digital screen, where an image of the enemy vessel looking down on all of us.

“That father thing called itself Agamemnon,” I explained, “after it saw the story of the Iliad in my head. I figure if that thing wants to share a name with one of the characters, then its mate should be named after another figure from the Trojan War.”

“If I remember my Greek mythology right, both Agamemnon and Astynome both ended up bein’ victims of tragedy.” Kathleen commented.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I’ve crossed my fingers for history to repeat itself.”

“Tragedy?” Commander Madoda asked. “I’m not well versed in your mythology, Humans. Could you elaborate?”

Kathleen and I both frowned as we tried to remember.

“Well, King Agamemnon led the Greeks to victory against the Trojans.” I said. “But he never got to reunite with his family ‘cause when he got home, somebody assassinated him.”

“And Astynome, she was an innocent who got kidnapped and enslaved by her father’s enemies.” Kathleen added. “I heard some Hiigaran bloke say that he thought The Mother was the very first ship infected by Agamemnon. She’s some kind of support ship, and Agamemnon got her early on, I’d say the name kinda fits.”

“Achilles!” Hal chimed in as he suddenly remembered. “Achilles kidnapped her!”

“Yeah, that’s right. The gods got angry, so they trashed the Greek army or something like that until the Greeks gave her back.” Kathleen finished.

“Well, I’m sure history’s not going to repeat itself here.” Yukiko said. “Astynome the giant spaceship is a little too big to kidnap. How about we kill her instead?”

“Is it even possible?” A Taiidani admiral asked. “We’ve never even managed to drive the Father and Mother from the field, much less do lasting physical damage.”

Makara and Jericho directed our attention to the digital image of Astynome. (the spaceship, not the Trojan woman)

“We might have found the answer to that question.” Jericho said. “Ever since the fight at Partoga, we’ve been analyzing the combat footage of the Tryna’s attack on Astynome.”

“It looks like we ran into the same problem you Hiigarans did when your people fought the first strain of the Beast over a century ago.” Makara contributed. “The Tryna’s main weapon actually did damage Astynome. In fact, the damage might have been crippling under different circumstances. However, all scans show that the Beast tissue materiel was able to re-grow almost instantly after it was exposed to the beam.”

“We know the Beast is capable of self-repair, Ranginui.” A Hiigaran general said. “How does this help us?”

“When Astynome was hit by the Wrath Cannon,” Makara explained. “Millions of particles of dead Beast materiel were blown off into space. We managed to recover some of it in the Mahuika’s ramscoops.”

The image of Astynome vanished from the screen, and it was replaced with a side-by-side comparison of two microscopic organisms. In each picture, there was a colony of organic cells that had been infected by the Beast virus. The virus on the right was labeled “Mother” and the one of the left “Father.” Strangely enough, the “Father” virus appeared to be bigger and more complex than its counterpart.

Makara pointed at the two samples.

“This is a recent sample of Agamemnon’s tissue material, grown and shed less than four months ago.” She said. “I shouldn’t need to impress upon you how many people died getting this to us. Now, here’s the important takeaway.”

Makara highlighted the mycelia-like strands that connected the Beast cells together, then pointed out how only a few of these connections existed in the Mother.

“According to our friends in the Vanian Conclave of Telepaths, Agamemnon has visited the Shroud at least once. This sample seems to have been taken after that visit. Note the Zro residue on this sample. The creature must have flown through a stellar deposit of the stuff to gain entry to the Shroud. Now compare this to Astynome. See how simple the cell structure is in comparison? There’s also a complete absence of Zro, suggesting that whatever Astynome is up to, it hasn’t involved Psionics.”

A Partogan admiral spoke up:

“That explains a discrepancy my crew spotted over the Capitol!” He said. “When the Mothership infected our vessels, we didn’t see them use Psionic shields, or any of the Psion-based weapons or technology we saw in the field at Hiigara.”

“We thought of that.” Manako said. “And we think you’re onto something.”

“We think that ever since Agamemnon entered the Shroud, the Beast virus itself has undergone a significant divergence.” Makara added. “There might be two different strains of the virus out there now, one for the Father and one for the Mother. While we still don’t have a counter for the Father’s Psionic shield, we believe that the Mother and all ships infected by her do not have the same protection.”

“So,” Queen Kendra asked, “If we reconfigure the Tryna’s main cannon to account for the Mother’s regeneration ability, could we do lasting damage to her?”

“Lasting damage?” Manako repeated with a sly smile. “I’m convinced that with a little help from Jericho and the Nomad Moon out there, we could kill the Mother outright! Which brings us to the reason Jericho asked us all to come here today.”

Nearly fifty people all shuffled in their seats to face Jericho as she stood up to address the group:

“Commander Ranginui told me that your scientists are close to finishing a new version of the Infection Vaccine.” Jericho began. “And he also warned me that it would only be effective for a short while before the Beast adapts and renders it useless. So, I need to ask something from all of you, something difficult. I just hope you all can trust me.”

“If I may speak for the Triple Alliance,” Adil raised his voice. “I don’t think our willingness to trust you is in question. We know what you can do, and many of us have seen you in action now, at Hiigara or Partoga.”

“You haven’t heard my request yet.” Jericho stopped him before going on:

“This is what I need to ask: When we cross paths with Astynome a few weeks from now… Do not deploy the vaccine. Save it for the next fight.”

The uproar was immediate and loud! Nearly half the room voiced their opposition to this idea right away!

“You want us to fight the Mother unvaccinated!?” A Hiigaran yelled. “That’s a suicide mission!”

“You would doom thousands of our comrades to be subverted and turned against us!?” A Kelt shrieked. “Has your mind been melded!?”

“Who do you think you are!?” A Scyldari demanded, “Why are we listening to her!?”

Finally, Makara called for silence!

“I’m not asking you to fight without any kind of protection.” Jericho said. “But the final fight against Agamemnon is too important to go in without a vaccine.”

“And do you have an alternative solution for fighting Astynome?” Commodore Madoda asked.

“I do.” Jericho replied. “I can shield the fleet.”

I frowned in thought.

“You mean you can give all of our vessels a shield?” I asked. “Like what Agamemnon did at Hiigara?”

“I think I can.” Jericho nodded at me. “I mean, I’ve been practicing small-scale on the fighters in the Mahuika’s main hangar, and we’ve been working on a large-scale amplifier here in the Tryna. Theoretically, I should be able to keep the Beast off the fleet.”

“Amplifier?” Kathleen repeated.

“Yeah… we’ve basically turned the Tryna into the Galaxy’s biggest Psionic Amplifier.” Jericho replied with a nod. “If everything goes right, I can project my powers across a whole star system.”

Reepi Imvu and Kanti Divakar both looked very happy with themselves.

“I’m so happy our plan to modify the Tryna went so well.” Kanti said. “A lot of my classmates in the Psi Corps theorized about the armada-scale applications of Psionic weapons. I’m very eager to see our new system in action.”

Manako stepped up.

“Some of you fought with my sister and I at Hiigara.” He said. “You all saw what happened to the Kakama. Jericho shielded us from a battlecruiser-sized plasma cannon that day! And that was without a city-sized Amplifier! I’m convinced, wholly and completely, that she can protect us from the Beast.”

“Same here.” A Hiigaran admiral chimed in. “Jericho’s shield doesn’t need to hold forever, just long enough to target Astynome with the Wrath Cannon, it should be enough.”

“Then that’s the plan.” Makara finished. “Jericho will shield the fleet from Astynome. We’ll close the distance under protection and hit the enemy with the Tryna at point-blank range.”

“Let’s do this!” I said. “What could possibly go wrong?”

“Agreed.” Tsubaki chimed in. “Let’s get this done!”



Friday, August 1, 2036 – 5:00am
Barnard’s Star System, United Nations of Earth, The Galactic Front Line

Nuclear hellfire blossomed and bloomed in the empty space between the planets in this system. A mixed force of Hiigaran, Taiidan, and Vaygr ships swarmed and darted between mass driver rounds, Ion cannon beams, missiles, and torpedoes while a flotilla of Beast-infected warships pressed forward, moving inexorably towards Earth! Cruisers slugged it out while frigates flitted between the cover of asteroids. Fighters and Corvettes spat flame into the dark void before retreating to the safety of their carriers and Motherships. The cloud of battling starships was so huge and dense that one could not see through it to the other side.

“This isn’t looking good, fleet.”

“Hold your positions!”

“We have an incoming Hyperspace signature. Friendly forces are inbound!”

A massive quantum wavefront washed over the battlefield where hundreds of starships were darting around one another! Beast ships that had spent the past few months looking for a way to outflank the allied warships were suddenly forced to retreat as a vast armada of new contacts began spilling out of Hyperspace! At first it was tens of thousands, but the number grew with each second as hundreds of thousands of starships began to rematerialize! The United Armada was so numerous that it blotted out the light of the nearby star entirely!

Nearly half a million starships erupted forth and moved to join a formation that stretched hundreds of miles in every direction, with the Tryna, Nomad Moon, Tantomile, and Mahuika at its core. Strike craft and Corvettes launched from hangars, bringing the total reinforcements to well over a million allied spacecraft!

Infected Beast forces fell back to the protection of their Mothership! Astynome continued to advance, undeterred, while aboard the Partogan Assault Frigate Kakama, my team and I made our final preparations! The hull was polarized, weapons powered, torpedo tubes loaded, and the cloaking sail charged!

Inside the control room of the cloak generator, I took one last look out the window and saw a distant point of white light. It was Sol. We were less than ten light-years from Earth!

“Almost home.” I whispered to myself. “Almost home!”

“Attention fleet, this is the HMS Tryna.” Commodore Madoda broadcasted to the armada. “Wrath cannon is online and charging. 30 percent capacity and rising. We will be ready to fire in fifty seconds.”

“What’s the status of Jericho?” Makara called back from her command ship.

“She’s positioned herself in the core, and is ready to shield the fleet.” Madoda replied. “Just give the word.”

“All ships, keep pace!” Makara ordered!

The Mahuika surged forward and the armada followed, putting itself on a collision course with Astynome and her escorts! Aboard the Kakama, Manako ordered Tsubaki and I to bring the cloak online. Slipping into darkness, our invisible ship streaked ahead of the main fleet, with only the nimblest of Levakian and Micore Corvettes able to keep up.

There were two hundred million kilometers between the two hostile fleets!

One hundred million!

Fifty million!

The space in front of us suddenly shimmered as though it were a mirage! The stars in our field of view wavered and twinkled before the optical anomaly disappeared.

“Shield’s up!” Makara announced. “All ships, prepare to engage!”

“This is the Tryna.” Madoda broadcasted to the fleet. “Weapon systems fully charged. Commencing primary ignition!”

Once again, a narrow beam of light shot from the Tryna and struck the Beast Mothership! This time the enemy recognized what was happening! Even from ten million miles away, our sensors could see the gargantuan warship starting to turn in an evasive maneuver.

“Surface impact confirmed.” Madoda announced. “Standby for primary weapons fire in five… four… three… two… one…”

Like a bullet from a gun, a brilliant pulse ran down the length of the beam and struck Astynome at the speed of light! The shockwave rippled across the whole star system and shattered a few icy comets! At the same moment, every man, woman, droid, lithoid and unidentifiable sentient life-form cheered in celebration as a section of hull and flesh, roughly the size of a shipyard, was torn violently away from Astynome, sending blood, sparks, and flame into space!

“Direct hit!” Makara confirmed. “All strike wing commanders, engage at will! Tryna! Line up another shot!”

Aboard the Kakama, our celebration was short lived! It was time to fight!

“Drop the cloak!” Manako shouted from the bridge! “Accelerate to attack speed and hold on to your guts! Helm! Give me evasive pattern Nya!”

With less than a hundred thousand miles between the two opposing forces, both Beast and allied ships opened fire! For two whole seconds, the space between the Beast fleet and the Triple Alliance armada was filled with missiles, Ion beams, torpedoes, mass driver rounds, energy cannon blasts, plasma bombs, and laser bolts; before with a crash that would have fractured any terrestrial planet, the two fleets collided at full speed!

Our ship turned and twisted so sharply and quickly that the artificial gravity plating failed within seconds! Tsubaki hooked one of her prosthetic legs underneath a computer console to stop herself from flying up to the ceiling while our gunners gave up on keeping their orientation and just allowed themselves to fly freely! Torpedoes lunged forward from all three of our tubes, careening through the dark towards the enemy! Infected frigates never got the chance to turn their guns on us, and any time a cruiser or dreadnaught locked on, we simply outran them, fleeing into the rapidly growing field of wreckage and debris! Soaring over the hulk of what had once been a Scyldari battleship, we finally got our first clear look at the Beast Mothership.


Caption said:
The Mothership of the Beast, Astynome, pictured during the Battle of Barnard's Star on August 1, 2036.
“Jesus Christ!” Kathleen screamed. “It’s so much bigger up close!”

Astynome was colossal. Off the top of my head, I’d say she was roughly the size of Ceres. The gargantuan starship’s muscles, blood veins, and flesh all took on a frightening glow in the blue light of the Sirius star.

“It’s so massive! How many people do you think were in there?” Yukiko pondered.

“Those people are still alive, and they’re trying to kill us!” Kailani shouted from her place at the helm. “Hang on!”

Ion beams and energy cannon blasts rose up from Astynome’s hull, forcing Kailani to pull the Kakama into a sharp climb, up and back into the main battle! In front of us, a Beast-infected Heavy Cruiser fired a particle beam into the flank of a Partogan Missile Destroyer. The charged beam hit an invisible barrier and dissipated, spraying Beast particles in all directions except onto our own ships!

“The shield is working!” A commander reported over the radio. “Tell Jericho to keep it up as long as she can!”

The Kakama flitted through the main battle, phasing in and out of visibility as she went, breaking the cloak only to fire torpedoes before fading away again! Meanwhile, the Beast forces continued pushing forward, trying to reach the Tryna!

“Enemy forces within two hundred Kios of Jericho!” Reported the commander of the Nomad Moon.Tryna, what’s your status?”

“Primary weapon still charging!” Madoda answered. “Keep the enemy off us for a few minutes!”

“Attention fleet, this is Mahuika!” Makara butted into the battle chatter. “Astynome has put out a distress call! Beast reinforcements incoming!”

“Understood.” Replied the Nomad Moon XO. “We are preparing to deploy our primary weapon at this time!”

Aboard the Kakama, Manako barked new orders, the same one being given aboard every ship on our side!

“Prepare to reverse polarity!”

Inside the cloaking generator chamber, Sarah, Yukiko, Dolim, Temirzhan and I all pushed off from the floor and, in the absence of gravity, flew towards the opposite wall where a layer of plasteel armor separated us from the ship’s outer hull. Strategically placed every four feet or so along the outer wall was a simple computer console. This system had been installed on every vessel in the United Armada for just this situation!

“Enemy forces are one-hundred-fifty Kios from Jericho!” Makara reported to the fleet. “The Tryna is in danger!”

“This is Nomad Moon: all friendlies clear Repulsor field!”

That was our cue! On command, Dolim, Sarah, Temirzhan, Yukiko and I all flipped a series of breaker switches in our consoles! All along the length of our ship, a series of loud mechanical clicks was the only sign that the powerful electromagnets contained in the hold below had suddenly reversed their polarity!

A loud whining noise accompanied the firing of the Nomad Moon’s Repulsor cannon, but the field itself was barely visible… until it hit the enemy! Allied vessels, having flipped their polarity, were ignored outright by the field, but Beast ships were physically (and violently) pushed away from the Nomad Moon along the length of the shockwave, creating a bubble of empty space between our allies and the Beast! Astynome was hit by Repulsor field as well, but was only pushed a short distance back.

This was a good thing.

The enemy fleet tried to force its way back towards our side, but before they could reach us, the Tryna was ready to fire a second time! Allied warships swarmed and swirled around the superweapon as it took aim and closed the distance with Astynome!

“Distance to target, six hundred Kios.” Madoda announced. “Stand by for point-blank engagement!”

One last time, the beam of light shot out of the Tryna! From my own vantage point aboard the Kakama, I saw the beam travel two-thirds of the way to the Mothership before stopping dead in the middle of empty space! It was as though the Wrath Cannon beam had hit an invisible wall!

“What the-!?”

An infected Hiigaran Battlecruiser took the full force of the Tryna’s blast and was sliced in half while it was still rematerializing! The Quantum Wavefront collapsed and cut the infected ship to ribbons while it was still emerging from Hyperspace! Makara shouted:

“INCOMING! WE’VE GOT OVER TWENTY THOUSAND SUPER-CAPITOL SHIPS APPROACHING ON MULTIPLE ATTACK VECTORS!!”

Looking around and out the window frantically, I saw a veritable wall of Battlecruisers, Destroyers, Dreadnaughts, Battleships, Heavy Cruisers, Titans, and other super-sized warships coming our way from all directions! We were surrounded!

“Aw, son of a bitch!” Yukiko gasped. “Did we just trigger some kind of trap!?”

“If we let all those ships converge, they’ll wipe us out!” I called up to the bridge. “We’ve gotta fight our way out to one side!”

Nomad Moon! When can you give us another Repulsor field!?” Manako called out.

“Emitters are still recharging!” The Taiidani commander replied. “Give us two minutes!”

“I seriously doubt we have two minutes!” A Levakian commander said while his missile destroyer rained fire on an incoming hostile!

The Kakama cloaked again and dove into a sea of debris while enemy weapons fire crisscrossed in all directions around us! Amidst the chaos, a stray mass driver round drilled into our port flank!

Sarah screamed as a loud clank sounded in the chamber next to ours! The jarring impact was punctuated by the sudden sealing of an airtight bulkhead door that separated our chamber from the rest of the ship!

“They got hit!” Sarah gasped! “The people in the next room! They’re gonna run out of air!”

Instinctively, Sarah reached for our bulkhead door and tried to open it, but Yukiko, Temirzhan and I all seized her and held her back!

“They’re dead already!” I shouted! “Don’t kill us too!”

“Commander, I’ve got more incoming!” Kailani shouted! Now that our bulkhead door was closed, we could only hear the bridge crew over the intercom. “There’s a Hyperspace signature right on top of us!”

“Kalili, I’ve got a system full of incoming right now!” Manako dismissed Kailani’s report.

“This is different!” Kailani protested. “I’ve never seen these ship profiles before, and they’re not sending any kind of recognition codes…”

There was a pause, and even through the tinny sound of the intercom, I could make out a flicker of hope in Kailani’s voice as she trailed off. Then, when she came back over the speaker, all of the trepidation in Kailani’s voice had been replaced with pure joy:

“The Humans are coming!” Kailani shouted; “Human warships emerging from Hyperspace directly above us! THE HUMANS ARE COMING!”

Several black and white vessels, no bigger than Gunships, darted along our flanks and sped into the battle, mass driver cannons alight! Looking out my window, I saw fourteen new spacecraft break formation and join the fight while the voice of a Human female spoke over the comms net:

“Attention Triple Alliance ships, this is Captain Marie Ferrell of the United Nations warship Bushranger. Mind if we lend a hand?”



 
Last edited:

HistoryDude

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Yes! Go, Humanity!

Nice Star Wars quotes.

Wouldn’t the destruction of Psionics mean the Beast can’t use them either?

Also, how is the fate of the Galaxy and the Beast tied to Akira’s? And why?

Also, given that Akira got most of her Psionic power from scamming the End of the Cycle, will her power die when everybody else’s does?

I suppose we’re in the endgame now...
 

Macavity116

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Wouldn’t the destruction of Psionics mean the Beast can’t use them either?
Correct. The Beast would lose its newfound power and protection.


Also, how is the fate of the Galaxy and the Beast tied to Akira’s? And why?
Agamemnon forcefully absorbed the End of the Cycle, taking its body and powers into himself. As a result, Agamemnon's survival is now dependent on the continued existence of Psionics, because the End of the Cycle will die if Psionics are destroyed. Meanwhile Akira's vision of the perfect future does not include the permanent loss of Psionics, and she do whatever it takes to preserve the Gift. To make matters worse, jumping to (creating) the 117th Cycle is not an option for Akira. If the End of the Cycle dies, the Shroud will be left permanently despoiled, extinguishing the Gift permanently. Without her powers, Akira won't be able to re-shape history again. She has no choice: She's married to the 116th Cycle at this point.

If Agamemnon is defeated, he will take the End of the Cycle with him, accelerating the destruction of Psionics, an outcome that Akira cannot accept. If Akira is unwilling to accept the loss of the Gift, she will take drastic action to stop Agamemnon from being destroyed during the War in Heaven. She will ensure he is separated from the End of the Cycle before the final blow is struck. If she can't do that, Akira will lose all chance of creating the Perfect Future. What she does in the face of total mission failure is not something our heroes want to witness.

so, given that Akira got most of her Psionic power from scamming the End of the Cycle, will her power die when everybody else’s does?
Yes. The destruction of Psionics would leave Akira as weak and mortal as the rest of us.
 

volksmarschall

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You do well to enthrall the heart of a classicist who frequently writes on Homer in real life! :p
 

Macavity116

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You do well to enthrall the heart of a classicist who frequently writes on Homer in real life! :p
Wow, I never expected a response like that! Thanks!
 
Chapter 37: The Composer of Strands

Macavity116

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Chapter Thirty-Seven
The Composer of Strands

Caption said:
The Battlemaster-class gunship JSDF Hinomaru opens fire on a Progeny aircraft near Wake Island during the early morning hours of June 30, 2036. Despite being few in number, the Battlemaster quickly became the mainstay warship of the United Nations of Earth during the final year of the Second Hyperspace War. These vessels are 30.8 meters long and have a 21 meter wingspan. Battlemasters are armed with four turret-mounted mass drivers and twelve missile pylons. The vessel's armor is reinforced to allow it to carry and deploy high-yield nuclear weapons. During the engagement of June 30, the Hinomaru was not carrying nuclear weapons. (The Japanese government forbade its starships from carrying or using such devices)

Monday, June 30, 2036 – 7:00am
Wake Island, Hawaiian Republic, Pacific Ocean



“Attention incoming aircraft! This is the gunship JSDF Hinomaru! You have been intercepted by the United Nations Navy inside of a restricted area! Turn around and work north immediately! I say again: Unidentified aircraft, you have been intercepted by the JSDF Hinomaru of the United Nations Navy! Change course immediately and proceed towards Honolulu Spaceport! You are inside of restricted airspace! If you fail to comply, you will be fired upon!”

An old ADVENT supply barge continued sailing forward above the ocean surface, ignoring the radio calls from the nearby UN spaceplane. The Hinomaru banked her wings and fell in behind the starship. Keeping the supply barge’s stern in front of her nose, the Hinomaru was in the kill position, ready to launch a missile at any moment! A few tense moments passed before the order was given from UN Headquarters:

Hinomaru: this is Secretary-General Harper… destroy the target!”

A laser-guided missile fell away from the spaceplane’s left wing and fired up its engine! The journey from launch to target took only three seconds! The missile struck the underside of the old spaceship and blew out a section of hull near the engine bell! Crippled, the vessel began to lose altitude, falling out of the sky and leaving a trail of opaque smoke behind. Bursting through the clouds, the fatally wounded supply barge fell from the sky like a meteor and slammed into a narrow spit of land, the only island around for hundreds of miles in any direction.

Smoke had barely begun to rise from the wreckage before an access hatch blew out and four occupants escaped from the craft: Three Humans and a Lithoid Outsider. While the organic crewmates got clear of the wreckage, the Outsider returned to try and fight the flames, ignoring the gunship coming in for a landing nearby. Palm trees and long grass rustled and waved as a second spacecraft came down on the little island.

Before the UNS Tigermoth could come to a full and complete stop, Mira Mihaka jumped out of the main door and onto the ground. Pointing a Psionic Amplifier at the shipwrecked Humans, she screamed:

“AKIRA JAQUELINE ROBINSON! PUT YOUR HANDS UP AND DON’T MOVE! I SWEAR I WILL KILL YOU IF YOU DON’T LISTEN!!”

The two male Humans stood aside when they realized Mira was talking to the one and only woman in their group: The red-haired Templar known as Violet saw the weapon aimed at her chest and promptly surrendered! Taking no chances, Violet fell to her knees and put both hands above her head. Meanwhile, the six remaining Stormbreakers erupted out of the Tigermoth and, weapons drawn, advanced on the three Templars.

Also taking no chances, Sophie Ackermann raised her shotgun and annihilated the Outsider with a single blast! The Lithoid splintered into pieces and crumbled to the ground while Sophia, Isis, and Matthew arrested Violet and her compatriots. Meanwhile, Odette and Yutaka looked inside of the ruined supply barge, which was now mostly extinguished. After a momentary search, both soldiers emerged from the rear deployment bay.

“Where are the others!?” Yutaka demanded, “We know you were carrying two hundred cultists to the Pacific Anomaly! You were taking them to a battle they were never going to win! A slaughter!”

“We had a change of plans.” Violet answered calmly. “We knew you were coming for us, so we moved the volunteers to another transport.”

“What!?” Sophia gasped. “How the hell did you know we were onto you!?”

“That’s not important!” Matthew interjected. “What matters is that we’ve got Akira! She can’t lead anyone into a trap if she’s in our custody!”

The other Stormbreakers cheered in agreement, leaving Sophia’s question unanswered. But the celebratory mood was quickly cut short by a scratchy, tomboyish voice:

“Guys… that’s not Akira.”

Odette’s words cut through the air, and a wave of terror seemed to follow behind it. The Frenchwoman lowered her rifle and cautiously approached Violet. The Templar was handcuffed and kneeling in front of Matthew and Sophia. She turned to look at Odette with an unexpected smile.

“The voices warned me about you.” Violet breathed. “They said you have a powerful intuition.”

Mira looked back and forth from Violet to Odette and back again. Her thoughts seemed to be moving at a hundred Kios per second! Then, Mira touched one finger to her own forehead and pointed it at Violet. The telepathic invasion was so abrupt and violent that the female Templar screamed and fell over on her side! Mira had expected to unmask Akira and force her to reveal what she was planning. Instead, Mira made a disturbing discovery, gasped, and stumbled backwards!

Odette was right… the handcuffed woman lying in the sand was not Akira… but there was still a far more frightening development going on.

“How long have you been there?” Mira asked in a low, shaking voice. “When did you get there!?”

Violet sat upright, looked around at the group, and let out a sigh of resignation. Then she spoke, but the voice that came forth clearly did not belong to her. It sounded similar to a chorus of voices, hundreds or perhaps thousands, speaking in perfect unison:

“You would do well to ask the woman who carries our kin as though it was a trinket and sells parts of her child to it.”

Everybody took a step back from Violet! Panicked exclamations echoed around the group.

“What the fuck!?” Sophie shrieked. “What happened to Violet?”

Isis put her Gremlin drone in Medical Protocol and ordered it to scan Violet. When the flying robot returned to its owner, she gave an unexpected prognosis:

“So… uh… I think a Psionic lifeform has latched itself onto Violet. I think it’s leeching energy off her, and it’s definitely the one talking right now.”

Mira looked down at Violet.

“How did you get here?” She asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Sophie cut in. “We shot her down.”

“I’m not talking to Violet.” Mira clarified. She knelt down next to the Templar and added: “How did you, the Whisperers in the Void, end up here on Earth, sucking the sanity out of a Templar?”

None of the Stormbreakers knew what Mira meant when she used the words “Whisperers in the Void” but Matthew and Isis correctly guessed that it had something to do with the mysterious “Shroud” Mira had discussed several months ago, and now directed their concerned expressions onto Mira herself.

“If you seek the full story, contact the Vanians.” The Whisperers in the Void replied through Violet. “You should not waste your time on us… by now, the Progeny will have reached Tethys. The battle will begin at any moment.”



Monday, June 30, 2036 – 7:30am
Airspace above the Pacific Ocean



Six UN spacecraft charged into the Pacific Anomaly at full speed! Two ADVENT Interceptors and four Battlemaster-class spaceplanes carried the Stormbreakers, some three dozen XCOM soldiers, and a small strike force of Templars towards the very core of the Psionic Maelstrom, while aboard the UNS Tigermoth, Mira confronted a pair of representatives of the Triple Alliance.

Two Vanians, one male and one female, found themselves surrounded by angry Humans, Partogans, and Levakians; all of whom were asking questions rapid-fire:

“How long were you keeping this a secret!?”

“When did your people return to the Shroud?”

“Did you take the Composer or the Whisperers first?”

“How long did your people possess the Whisperers in the Void?”

“How much of this technology was subverted by the Beast!?”

It was that last question that finally prompted a response from the two Vanians. The male one, an officer named Ruldu, shook his head in frustration so much that several iridescent blue feathers fell to the floor.

“Don’t you think I’ve been asking the same questions!?” Ruldu snapped. “Everyone on my world knew about the Instrument of Desire! It was ingrained into our very being! How was any lay-bird like me supposed to know the Conclave went back for a second patron!?”

Mira wasn’t satisfied and pressed on while Central Officer Smith moved towards the cockpit to check on progress.

“The Beast took Vania years ago!” Mira was outraged. “The enemy has been holding onto the Whisperers in the Void for almost a decade! Do you realize what that means!? Every defeat our side has suffered for the past eight years was because the Beast had this wellspring of knowledge that it stole from your people! Why didn’t you just hand the Galaxy over on an Aetherium platter!?”

“Perhaps we did.” The Peahen muttered. “None of us knew the Conclave had taken a second patron. Clearly it was being housed in either the Psi Corps on Vania, or in our Science Nexus. Both locations were subject to secrecy. The Whisperers in the Void would have been a closely guarded state secret.”

Ruldu nodded in agreement. The blue and yellow peacock looked happy that no one had challenged his compatriot’s explanation. Central Officer Smith re-entered the crew area, shaking her head.

“The damage is done, Mira.” Holly said. “Now we just have to play the hand we’re dealt. What do you think we’re going to find down there?”

Mira folded her arms and cast a very dark look around the group.

“A scene from a nightmare.” Mira replied. “Just get us to the anomaly.”



Monday, June 30, 2036 – 7:55am
The Alien Fortress, Tethys Seamount, Pacific Ocean



The spaceplanes couldn’t fly inside of the Maelstrom. Circling high, the Normandy, Persepolis, Bushranger, and Hinomaru all flew in a low circle above the mile-wide whirlpool and watched as the Tigermoth and her sistership descended. The Tethys Seamount was over four miles beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean, giving the Stormbreakers plenty of time to stare out the Tigermoth’s side portals at the wall of seawater beside them. Whales, squid, and other enormous forms of sealife gave the maelstrom a wide berth, but still came close enough to be seen from the descending spacecraft.

Finally, after about five minutes, Wendy Carter, piloting the Tigermoth, reported:

“Starship contact! I see five ADVENT troop transports landed on the summit!”

Mira pointed out the cockpit window towards a plateau near the crushed remains of the Elder’s fortress.

“Drop us off there! Near the waterline! Do not land!”

Tethys was no longer completely submerged. The very bottom of the maelstrom could not be seen because the water was slowly starting to rise again. The base of the seamount was submerged, and seawater was rising up all sides of the mountain. By Mira’s guess, they had about thirty minutes before the Alien Fortress was once again lost to the sea, along with Duane Gardner and his “Volunteers.”

The Tigermoth tried to come to a hover before dropping any soldiers to the ground, but that problem was compounded when Wendy suddenly pulled up on the control column, aborting the drop, and saying:

“The landing zone is hot! Weapons fire on the ground!”

“Don’t land!” Mira responded. “Put us in a hover behind the Templars on the ground!”

Near the main door, Matthew ordered the Stormbreakers to lock and load.

“Shoot the sea monsters only!” He ordered. “Remember, we wanna save these people!”

The main door retracted, granting the Stormbreakers their first view of the carnage below…

It was a horrific scene. Twenty Templars stood back-to-back, fighting against a roiling swarm of sea monsters that clambered and crawled over the bodies of some two hundred warriors that had already been slain. In the center of the melee, Duane Gardner was visible, standing head and shoulders above the combatants and blasting anything that came near with powerful Psionic bursts. The surviving Templars were a mixed force of Humans, Hybrids, Sectoids, Levakians, Partogans, Mutons, Vanians, Amadii, and Vipers. Celestial Gauntlets flashed in the dark maelstrom, cutting Tasoths and Triscenes to pieces!

As the Tigermoth came to a hover, Matthew pointed into the battle and shouted:

“Drop now! Go go go!”

Mira and six Stormbreakers hit the mud together and charged into the fight! Isis, Odette, Sophie, Sophia, Matthew and Yutaka used laser rifles to cut their way past a massive Tentaculat before pushing towards the stricken Templars. Mira activated her Psionic amplifier and stayed close to the squad. All around her, the sound of the maelstrom was like a tornado, the roar of raging waters threatening to drown out all else!

At the top of a heap of corpses, Duane Gardner lashed and struck out with this Celestial Gauntlets at the encroaching sea monsters! He made no effort to protect or save the fighters around him; a Gifted Levakian roared as it was felled by a Lobsterman, two Vipers reached out towards him for salvation, only to be ignored and dragged under the waves in the teeth of a vicious Triscene, and the last Hiigaran in the group found herself caught in the grip of a hideous Tentaculat. The Hiigaran’s scream of anguish echoed all the way up the maelstrom and died long after she did.

Each time a combatant was killed, be they friend of foe, Duane seemed to become more and more ferocious in his fighting. Each Psionic attack was intensified, and the effects more harmful or destructive! By the time Mira and the Stormbreakers reached him, Duane was firing bolts of lightning from his hands that were instantly lethal to even the largest sea monster!

“Gardner!” Yutaka shouted above the chaotic noise of battle. “Come on, we’re here to get you and your people out of here!”

“No!” Duane stood his ground and refused to move. “We must press on! We must defeat the Deep One!”

Mira spotted a reptilian Tarsoth coming up the hill behind Duane! She stood behind him and blasted it away with her Psionic Amplifier! Fighting back to back, Mira and Duane kept most of the sea monsters at bay while the Stormbreakers started evacuating the surviving Templars to the Tigermoth.

“Gardner!” Mira called to him. “The Deep One isn’t what you think it is! You cannot face it! Akira lied to you!”

Duane hesitated for just a moment.

“Akira? She died here a year ago!” He responded.

“Listen to me! Whoever told you that you could take this thing lied to you!” Mira shouted. “Get on the damned ship!”

A bright red pulse of laser weapon fire illuminated the Crypt of the Elders. Sophia and Sophie both got into a kneeling position and fired their weapons into a dark corner of the battlefield.

“Mira!” Sophia yelled. “We’ve got movement in the Crypt! We gotta go!”

Mira tried to grab Duane by the shoulder, but he broke free of her grasp. In that sort moment of contact, Mira detected the immense Psionic energy radiating off his body! It was already too late! Duane had used his power to absorb the energy of the dead and was itching to make use of it!

Was Duane doing this during our first assault on this place? Mira wondered to herself as she gave chase.

The Deep One was emerging from the ruined Crypt of the Elders, just as it had done when Mira’s disembodied spirit had visited here months ago. Lopsided, misshapen, and vaguely humanlike, the creature shuffled out of the space where it had been hiding, a shattered tower that had once occupied the center of the Crypt.

Suddenly, all other concerns and thoughts left Mira’s mind. She knew full well that this was one of the Shroud-Beings she had done battle against at Archer’s Canyon so very long ago. She could still clearly remember how the Composer of Strands had sent her flying through the air with a single strike. This was a foe to be taken seriously, or if possible, escape from. Taking her eyes off the Composer for just a moment to see where the Tigermoth was, Mira felt Duane leave her side and lunge into the fight once more!

“Stop! Come back!” Mira cried out.

Duane ignored her and closed the distance between himself and the Deep One! A massive Triscene, nearly twelve feet tall, covered in thick scales, and knashing rows upon rows of sharp teeth, threw itself between Duane and his target! The reptilian monster snapped its jaws at the lone Templar, who raised one Gauntlet high and clenched his fist! A bolt of lighting descended from the heavens above and pierced the Triscene’s head! The explosion of light and noise hit Mira like a bomb blast and nearly knocked her over backwards! Killed instantly the Triscene keeled over and fell down the mountainside, vanishing beneath the rapidly rising waters of the Pacific.

Duane raised both Gauntlets and took aim at the Deep One, preparing to launch some kind of Psychokinetic attack!

“The ends right now!” Duane shouted.

In an instant, a flash of thought, Mira put the clues together and came to a realization!

This was what Akira wanted!

It all made sense! Akira had recognized the Composer of Strands when she had seen it during Operation Leviathan! She had been planning to prop up Duane this whole time, to goad him into destroying the Shroud-Being, and permanently remove from play one of the five entities that had once tried to hunt down the Paradox! Mira looked at Duane… as he raised one hand to strike down the Composer of Strands once and for all! She wasn’t entirely sure, but Mira could have sworn she heard a telepathic voice whisper the words:

“Do it!”

This was Akira’s plan! Mira was sure of it! She had recruited Duane and the Templars to kill the Composer of Strands! To wipe out any chance of the Shroud-Being coming after her again!

“DUANE! STOP!”

Mira scrambled to her feet, charged towards Duane, and knocked his wrist aside! A Psionic Lance leapt forth from his palm, overshot the Composer of Strands, and dove into the roiling waters of the maelstrom! He looked down at her, full of rage and fury! His eyes shone with a dark light that wasn’t his own as he shouted:

“This is the Deep One! It has to die now!”

“It’s the Composer of Strands!” Mira got right in his face and yelled. “Did you forget everything I said about Shroud-Beings back in Nagasaki!? You can’t just kill them!”

The dark light resurfaced in Duane’s eyes. He seemed to have taken Mira’s words to heart, albeit much faster than what Mira was expecting. In fact, as Duane’s expression began to change, and a new idea took shape in his mind… Mira only had about half-a-second in which to realize and appreciate the full magnitude of just how big a mistake she had just made.

Mira had just come to the wrong answer, had acted on a bad judgement, and now it was time for consequences.

“Well, if I can’t kill it…” Duane seemed to be thinking out loud. Then, he took action!

Duane pushed Mira aside so hard that she fell to the ground! He advanced a few paces, and then his Celestial Gauntlets began to crackle and spark as the young Templar began to charge his energy! Duane pulled off his right-hand Gauntlet and reached into his pocket, producing a long thin cable. He raised the Neurowhip above his head!

“Creature of the Shroud!” Duane bellowed. “BOW TO ME!”

The Neurowhip illuminated with an unnatural light! Barely visible tendrils, looking not unlike the tentacles of one of these sea monsters, erupted from Duane’s body and latched themselves onto his target! The Composer of Strands let out a nightmare-inducing scream of fury and began to struggle! The Human-shaped body the Composer had inhabited began to writhe and flail as its body was lifted into the air by the sheer force of Duane’s mind!

This was Psionic Domination, the ultimate form of Mind Control.

The Composer of Strands shrieked and wailed as Duane smashed and slammed away at its free will with his own power! Mira jumped to her feet and grabbed him by the arm!

“Stop! Duane! Don’t do this! YOU NEED TO STOP!”

Mira appealed to Sophie and Sophia for help! The South African guerrilla answered right away, but the Russian fighter stood rooted to the spot, transfixed and mesmerized by the agony of the Composer of Strands! Sophie and Mira both grabbed Duane and tried to break his focus, but he threw them both aside and put himself behind a Psionic shield! The Composer of Strands began make a horrific choking noise, as though it were being lifted into the air by its neck! With its one and only arm, the creature reached out towards Duane in one last act of defiance!

“Who is your master, creature!?” Duane shouted!

Finally, the Composer of Strands ceased its resistance. The fight was over.

“Jericho.” It answered.

The Composer of Strands bowed its head low in a gesture of obedience. At once, the Psionic maelstrom gave up any attempt at continuing to exist! The massive, mile-wide whirlpool began to collapse on itself as billions of gallons of saltwater began to rain down from up above, threatening to swamp the Crypt of the Elders in a matter of seconds!

In pure frustration, Mira flung a Psi Lance at Duane! It bounced harmlessly off his shield as both he and the Composer moved together, jumping off the mountainside and into the open doors of the Tigermoth’s sister ship. Screaming her anger and fury to the heavens, Mira followed Sophie back aboard the Tigermoth itself, while Odette and Yutaka both briefly stepped out to recover Sophia, who seemed to be in some kind of trance. Their passengers secured, both of the former ADVENT spacecraft began to rise up and away from Tethys while below, the Psionic maelstrom finally collapsed!

Miles and miles of seawater raced down towards the Alien Fortress! The epic deluge crushed the Crypt of the Elders into powder and obliterated the rest of the structure, the remains sent cascading down the slopes of the mountain as it returned to its place at the bottom of a dark and silent ocean!

As the Psionic maelstrom collapsed and subsided, the two flying saucers rejoined the UN spaceplanes waiting for them and flew in formation towards Easter Island, while all around them, the skies and waves of the Pacific Ocean became calm and peaceful for the first time in almost a year…



Monday, June 30, 2036 – 11:30am
XCOM Forward Operating Base, Easter Island, Pacific Ocean



“And then what happened?”

“Gardner used Psionics to place the Composer of Strands under his control. According to reports from around the Pacific Rim, all sea monster attacks stopped within minutes of the Composers subjugation.”

Mira was standing between several leading members of the Human military, all of whom were struggling to wrap their heads around what had just happened this morning. XCOM Commander John Bradford, Reclamation Director Jane Kelly, and several other leading members of AFUNE were present and discussing what exactly had just happened down on Tethys. On a large digital screen at the far end of the room, the assembled Human leadership could watch and observe a live feed from Doctor Vahlen’s research facility, where Doctors Tygan and Vahlen were subjecting Duane, Violet, and the body of the Composer of Strands to a series of exams.

The Commander of the United Nations Army turned to Mira.

“Refresh my memory,” The Canadian officer said. “How many of these Shroud-Beings are there?”

“There are five in total.” Mira answered. “You’ve got two of them locked up in Vahlen’s lab: The Composer of Strands and the Whisperers in the Void.”

“You say these are creatures of incredible power.” Director Kelly mused. “Didn’t you also say that these things are extremely dangerous in a fight?”

“Dangerous!?” Mira repeated. “Director Kelly, we’re talking about god-like entities here! These creatures are above and beyond what the Ethereals were capable of.”

“And now we have two such demigods under our control.” Bradford said, scratching his chin. “Mira, do you think we could find a way to turn these things against the Beast?”

Mira furrowed her brow and put her hands on her hips. They just weren’t getting it!

“Commander Bradford, you seem to be missing the point.” Mira tried again. “These creatures consider us insects in comparison to them. If they were at their full strength, they’d crush us all without a second thought!”

Murmurs and mutters ran around the room as the assembled leaders considered this.

“How did you end up in battle against one of these things?” Jane Kelly asked. “How did you survive?”

Mira pondered her answer for a moment, then decided that the time for half-truths had passed:

“My enemy made a covenant with a Shroud-Being, and I made a covenant with another. Ultimately, my partner was the stronger, and I prevailed.”

Thanks to the intercom system, Doctor Vahlen was able to hear Mira’s words and her interest was piqued.

“Certain Shroud-Beings are stronger than others?” Doctor Vahlen paused in her work and faced the camera, looking through the digital screen towards the group. “Miss Mihaka, this is fascinating. I feel the need to ask: How would you rank the five creatures in terms of combat capabilities?”

Doctor Tygan had a more pressing question.

“Mihaka, you said that these creatures are not at their full strength. What happened to them?

Mira bit her lip. This wasn’t a story she had ever wanted to tell

“Akira.” She replied. “She double-crossed the most powerful Shroud-Being and it went after her. There was a fight, and…”

Mira trailed off. Memories of that frightening battle at the end of time itself were flooding back. In the lab, Tygan turned away from the viewscreen and looked at the Composer of Strands.

“Akira did this.” He said. “She crippled this creature.”

“She crippled all five of them.” Mira confirmed.

Finally, she gave the leaders of AFUNE a full explanation:

“These entities normally reside in the Shroud, where they are made entirely from Psionic energy. But they can leave the Shroud by cutting deals with Gifted people called covenants. Each Shroud-Being will offer something in return for being allowed to merge with its new host. The Whisperers in the Void grants insight, wisdom, and the ability to discover hidden secrets. The Composer of Strands transforms and reshapes living things. The Instrument of Desire grants wealth and prestige, while the Eater of Worlds bestows martial prowess. All of this comes with a cost, though. You and your people will always suffer some kind of loss or destruction in return. These beings will always take something from you as payment… always.”

Director Kelly had been writing in a notepad while Mira was talking. She counted on her fingers, looked up and said:

“Hang on, Mira. I think you missed one. Who’s the fifth entity?”

Mira shuddered. An aura of fear and terror radiated off of her and filled the room with a sense of dread.


“The End of the Cycle.”

“What will it give us?” Bradford asked in a low voice.

“Everything.”

“And what will it cost?”

Everything.”

Silence. For nearly a full minute, everybody just stared at Mira. Even Doctor Vahlen seemed lost for words. Finally, Bradford said:

“That’s the one, isn’t it? Akira double-crossed the End of the Cycle.”

Mira nodded.

“She never paid her end of the bargain.” Mira said. “The End of the Cycle caught up with her and she beat it in a fight. She’s literally using the stolen powers of a god.”

Once again, the assembled leadership fell silent.

“And we kept Akira on our side for months.” Kelly breathed. “I guess that means we can rule out the End of the Cycle agreeing to help us. What about the other four?”

“We already have two of the Shroud-Beings on our side.” Mira said. “That gives us a huge advantage already.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be big enough.” Bradford said. “Not if the reports we’ve been hearing are any measure of true.”

The Commander was talking about the now-daily flow of starships arriving at Earth. Every day, vessels from all over the Galaxy arrived, bringing news of how the Beast was now wielding incredible Psionic powers and was completely unstoppable in the field of battle. Bradford turned to Mira and asked:

“You said the Eater of the Worlds give martial prowess, right? Do you have any idea where we could find it? How would we communicate with the Shroud?”

Mira folded her arms in thought. Truthfully, she had no idea where the Eater of Worlds was, and was quite happy to keep it that way. She had already fought it once and wasn’t too keen on sharing a battlefield with it again. Reluctantly, she suggested asking the Whisperers in the Void.



One by one, Mira, Bradford, and Kelly shuffled into the laboratory where Tygan and Vahlen were working on Duane, Violet, and the Composer of Strands. All three individuals had been strapped down on their gurneys and were conscious. When they arrived, Doctor Vahlen was asking the trio a series of questions from a clipboard while Tygan had a surprising discovery to reveal.

“When Mihaka mentioned that the Shroud-Beings are able to fuse themselves to Gifted individuals, I decided to take another look.” Tygan said. “Come closer, Commander. You may find this interesting.”

Doctor Tygan gestured to the face of the Composer of Strands. Mira realized that she was looking at an elderly Human male whose right arm had been completely severed at the shoulder. The man’s hair and beard had grown wild and out of control, but there was something strangely familiar about him. Bradford was the first one to figure it out!

“That’s Chaplain Petoskey!” Bradford gasped.

“Impossible!” Kelly replied. “He was killed when we raided the Alien Fortress.”

“According to Captain Robinson’s after-action-report, no one actually saw Petoskey die.” Tygan pointed out. “He was last seen being knocked to the ground by a Psionic attack.”

“Futhermore,” Vahlen added, “All medical examinations confirm that Chaplain Petoskey is very much alive. I detect all of the brain activity you would normally see in a ninety-one-year-old man.”

Mira let out an awed sigh and brushed one hand on the Composer’s face, which she now recognized as belonging to Ignatius Petoskey. The old Chaplain's mouth opened and the Composer of Strands spoke in a mournful tone:

“This man was injured, dying. He was willing to pay any price to see his comrades again.”

“So, Ignatius made a covenant with you, then?”

“Yes. One of desperation, the terms were quite favorable to me.”

Director Kelly frowned.

“I’m not too sure how I feel about that.” She said.

“And you?” Mira directed her voice towards Violet, but it was the Whisperers in the Void who replied:

“Someone told this girl what we are and where to find us.” The Whisperers admitted. “Her motivation was built upon greed, but like your fallen Chaplain, the bargain was struck during a moment of life-threatening danger. The terms favored us.”

“Someone?” Bradford repeated.

“Akira Robinson.” The Whisperers in the Void repeated. “She considers it of the utmost importance that Humanity seizes control of ourselves and our kin.”

This… this was not the response Mira had been expecting, not by a longshot. She had thought she finally understood Akira’s plans, she had strongly believed she had the whole thing figured out! And now, in the most casual of ways, here was the Whisperers in the Void telling Mira that her guess was so badly off!

Bradford must had read the look of shock on Mira’s face because he turned to Violet and asked:

“Where are the other two, the Eater of Worlds and the Instrument of Desire?”

“The Instrument is being delivered to you.” The Whisperers replied. “It is already on its way here. As for the Eater, we can sense its satisfaction.”

Violet’s head turned towards Mira; her eyebrows raised.

“The Eater has not tasted such delicious flesh in a very long time. It has been quite happy since Robinson passed it on to his wife. Although that may change once Robinson and Jericho return home.”

Oh… oh, no… Oh, no!



Saturday, July 5, 2036 – 4:45pm
Honolulu, Oahu Island, Hawaiian Republic



A group of adolescent Vipers were sunning themselves on the sidewalk in front of the apartment complex where Chihiro Tachibana lived. Most neighbors had grown accustomed to the sight of lazy serpents in the summertime, as these reptilian aliens were cold-blooded and needed to keep warm as much as possible. A young Python had curled herself up on the concrete stairs and was soaking up as much sunlight as she could get away with, ignoring the alarmed hisses of her friends and the squealing of tires until it was nearly too late.

Opening her eyes, the Python saw an Armored Personnel Carrier painted with the blue and grey colors of the Reclamation Agency skidding to a halt just in front of the apartment building! The Python only had a few seconds to get away before a team of Humans and Hybrids erupted out of the vehicle and stormed up the stairway!

Once they found the apartment they were looking for, the Reclamation agents banged loudly on the door and shouted:

“Open up! Reclamation Agency with a search warrant!”

The sound of a baby crying could be heard before the door opened. Looking thoroughly annoyed and her hair messed up, Chihiro Tachibana poked her head out of the apartment and said:

“Look, guys, if you wanna come inside, just ask. No need to bring the fucking Spetsnaz.”

Inside, the Reclamation Agents found a fairly typical and average home of a single mother. A large number of children’s toys were piled up in a far corner of the living room while a few select items were right in the middle of the floor. A package full of fresh new diapers occupied a rocking chair, whilst all the ingredients of heathy baby food were waiting to be mixed on the kitchen counter.

There were three other people in the apartment. XCOM soldier Sophia Kuznetsova was sitting at the dining table, holding a cup of hot tea in both hands. Sophia had been startled by the sudden entry and was shaking so much that her tea had spilled all over the table. Next to her, Sophie Ackermann was holding onto Sophia’s hand with a sorrowful expression on her own face. Himawari Robinson was squirming and flailing about in her high chair, frightened to no end by the big men with scary guns. Mira Mihaka followed the Reclamation agents into the apartment. While they started to search the place, Mira grabbed Chihiro by the shoulder.

“My old sword, Chihiro, where is it!?”

“Huh?” Chihiro seemed confused. “Smith said I could keep it. It’s in the trophy case in my room and- hey! What’s going on!”

Mira had stood up and relayed Chihiro’s words to the Reclamation Agents.

“Listen, I’ll be able to tell you everything very soon.” Mira explained. “For now, suffice to say that I was wrong, horribly wrong about that sword! But now is the time for action. I need to take you to XCOM Headquarters; Corporal Kuznetsova and Sergeant Ackermann, you both need to go back to the XCOM FOB!”

Sophia seemed to shrink into her chair while Sophie put a reassuring arm around her shoulder.

“Oh, no!” Chihiro gasped. “Mira, can we go together?”

Chihiro leaned in close and whispered into Mira’s ear.

“Sophia’s not in a good place these days. She really needs someone to chat with, and we were doing so well.”

Mira shook her head.

“Sorry. This is coming from Bradford.” She said. “We’ve got to get moving now, things are in motion already!”

Two Reclamation Agents emerged from Chihiro’s bedroom. One of them as carrying the Katana carefully while his partner opened up a specially designed case that caught Chihiro’s eye.

“Who the hell lines the inside of a weapon case with rocks?” she asked, pointing towards strange item.

As an Agent placed the Katana inside of the rock-lined case and snapped it shut, Mira replied:

“That’s synthetic Aetherium. It has a very short half-life and is only good for a few hours. That’s why we need to move now!”

Chihiro grabbed Himawari from her high chair and held her close.

“Am I missing something, Mira? Does this have anything to do which that Intel I sent you about Duane and Violet? Did you catch Akira?”

Mira shook her head.

“We have reason to believe that both Jericho and your husband might be alive, and that they’re on their way back to Earth right now!”

Chihiro froze, unable to think of anything to say. Instead, her mouth just bobbed open and closed as though she were some kind of fish. Behind her, Sophia set down her tea and stood up.

“Well, we’d better get going then. I’m sure Chihiro will want to meet Blake on the landing pad if it’s really true.”

“What about you?” Chihiro asked. “Will you be okay?”

Sophia adjusted her headscarf, making sure her features were covered up, and replied in a defiant tone of voice:

“Doesn’t really matter. No one ever misses me anyway.”

Sophia either didn’t see or chose to ignore the hurt expression on Sophie’s face.


 
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HistoryDude

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Four Shroud-Beings are on the alliance’s side... and the End of the Cycle is on the Beast’s. This situation has happened once before, but the End of the Cycle was willingly aiding its host, then. It isn’t now. That should change the outcome...

Also, didn’t Mira know about there being a Shroud-Being in the sword? She explicitly told Chihiro that her katana was infused with the power of a dying god... so why is she surprised now?

Also, where is Akira?
 

Macavity116

The First Stormbreaker
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Mar 1, 2018
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archiveofourown.org
  • Stellaris
Four Shroud-Beings are on the alliance’s side... and the End of the Cycle is on the Beast’s. This situation has happened once before, but the End of the Cycle was willingly aiding its host, then. It isn’t now. That should change the outcome...
Not only that, but the alignments have been reversed from After Everything and the stakes have been significantly raised. The End of the Cycle is being controlled by the enemy this time around, and the actual destruction/death of the End of the Cycle is now a very real possibility. The consequences of which might have serious ramifications.

Also, didn’t Mira know about there being a Shroud-Being in the sword? She explicitly told Chihiro that her katana was infused with the power of a dying god... so why is she surprised now?
The Elders gained all of the knowledge they needed to raid the Shroud and capture both the Eater and Composer by stealing it directly from Mira's mind. Once she was transformed into the Chosen Assassin, the Elders made a point of hooking her up to the Psionic Network and using it to restrict Mira's ability to recall or remember detailed information about the Shroud. (a precaution in case she was captured or defected) Even though Mira has moved to a new body, the Psionic damage to her mind remains in place having this effect:

Despite being the Chosen Assassin for nearly 5 years, Mira never knew the Elders had subjugated 2 Shroud-Beings, and unquestioningly believed what the Elders had told her about the Katana's origins. She was unable to put two and two together because the Elders prevented it.

Also, where is Akira?
She is following closely behind Sophia Kuznetsova, setting the stage for the final paragraph page of Chapter 39: Pale Blue Dot. (EDIT: Holy crap, that final scene ended up being much longer than I was expecting!)
 
Last edited:
Chapter 38: Imposed Cosmos

Macavity116

The First Stormbreaker
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  • Stellaris

Chapter Thirty-Eight
Imposed Cosmos


Caption said:
The Battle of Barnard's Star was one of the final military engagements of the Second Hyperspace War. Astynome broke formation with the main Beast fleet and intercepted the Triple Alliance Armada during its final dash towards Earth. The attempt to bottleneck the allied forces was ultimately a failure, as many uninfected ships escaped to Earth, where they would be available for the subsequent War in Heaven.

This picture is slightly erroneous: Agamemnon is shown in this image where Astynome should be.
Friday, August 1, 2036 – 5:00am
Barnard’s Star System, United Nations of Earth, The Galactic Front Line


In a matter of just twenty-five minutes, the entire Barnard’s Star system had become a nebula. Unlike those clouds of gas and dust, the blue star had been completely blotted out by a swirling vortex of shredded metal, wire, and charred flesh. From a distance, it was simply impossible to see into the battlefield. Lights flickered and flashed like sick demented fireworks, in a continuous display of violence on a scale no human being could ever imagine. Every planet, moon, and minor rock in the system was now engulfed in the colossal field of wreckage and debris. And as for the eight Humans caught in the middle of a battlefield that spanned hundreds of millions of miles in any direction…

Where the hell do I even start?


Caption said:
A Hiigaran Destroyer provides fire support for a flotilla of Partogan warships during the Battle of Barnard's Star. The large vessel on the far left is a Partogan Mobile Hyperspace Gate, used to jump Super-Capitol ships directly into the combat zone.
The sound of mass driver rounds hitting our hull was like a hailstorm, each impact making our ears ring painfully. Most of us couldn’t hear our own heartbeats over the sound of air hissing as it escaped through a crack that had appeared in our bulkhead door.

“The room next door depressurized!” Sarah yelled.

“Seal that breach!” Temirzhan tossed several tubes of emergency sealant across the Cloak control room towards me!

I jumped to catch one, remembering too late that the ship’s internal gravity had failed! Sailing upward, I hit my head on the ceiling, hard! Coming to rest above everyone else, I tossed the sealant to Tsubaki, who had hooked her prosthetic leg on a railing to keep herself in place.

“How are we supposed to get out afterward?” Yukiko asked. “If the door is sealed?”

“The bridge crew will send someone for us, or a salvage team, depending on how badly we’ve been hit.” Dolim replied.

I started to ask “How do we know how badly we’ve been hit?”

But before a single word left my mouth, the entire room turned upside down and violently shuddered! The whole ship shook and rattled like an out-of-control carnival ride, throwing us all around at frightening speed! Sarah, Yukiko, Tsubaki, Dolim, Temirzhan, and I all got tossed chaotically around the room, crashing into each other in midair before the roller coaster ride from hell came to a sudden end!

Once everything stopped moving, we took stock again.

Somebody had crashed into the main body of the Cloaking Sail during the Kakama’s frantic evasive maneuver and disabled the entire system. Tsubaki was hanging from the floor by her cybernetic ankle (Relative to me. I was sitting on the ceiling. Remember, the artificial gravity was out) and Dolim, being so small, had crashed into the open drawer of a filing cabinet and had gotten stuck. While Yukiko moved to rescue the trapped lizard, Temirzhan pulled Sarah out of a pile of debris and gave her a tight hug.

“Is it over?” Sarah squeaked.

Looking up, I realized that the whole ship had been re-oriented in space, and that I was now standing on the one and only window in the room. Peering out of it, I saw a glittering fog of wreckage and debris sliding past at high speed. Bright flashes of weapons fire lit up the field light a nighttime lightning storm. To my left, the intercom speaker crackled and Manako’s voice came out:

“All sections, give me a damage report!”

Pressing the talk button with my heel, I said:

“Cloak control room here, Commander. We’re offline and got some minor injuries.”

“Can you send the wounded to the infirmary?” Asked the voice of Kanti Divakar.

“Negative.” I replied. “We’re trapped behind a blast door. The next room depressurized.”

“Stay where you are, Robinson.” Kanti ordered. “Repair the sail as best you can and we’ll dig you out once the fight’s over!”

Temirzhan and Yukiko pushed the Cloaking Sail back into its proper alignment while Dolim examined the intricate radiator assembly that had almost burst through its housing.

“Could have been worse.” The Kelt engineer reported. “Commander Ranginui, we won’t be able to give you a full cloak, but we can make it extremely difficult for the enemy to see us!”

“Good!” Manako replied. “Get set up, but don’t cloak us yet, we’re lining up a torpedo run!”

While our Triple Alliance comrades worked to repair the Cloaking Sail, Tsubaki got herself unstuck and glided across the room to the window. I heard her exclaim in Japanese, saying a phase that meant something like “Wow, look at that!” Peering out of the window, I spotted what had caught her attention.


Caption said:
A flotilla of enemy warships use the Partogan's favorite tactic against them: Highly focused and concentrated Ion Cannon fire on a single target, shredding the victim in a matter of seconds.
The Beast fleet had re-oriented itself into a defensive formation. There was now a dense cloud of Super-Capitol ships directly between the Tryna and Astynome. Despite their best efforts, the United Armada and their Human reinforcements were having no luck in punching a hole in the formation. The Tryna itself had a very slow rate of fire, meaning that another successful strike against Astynome was now highly unlikely. Human spaceplanes fired missile after missile into the dense cloud of ships. Each projectile was tipped with a warhead that erupted into a brilliant thermonuclear fireball, incinerating countless Beast ships, but nowhere near enough to clear a path through the enemy. There was simply too many of them.

“Our side’s gonna run out of steam before we punch through that defense!” Tsubaki said.

“Yeah, we’re about to land in a whole world of trouble.” I added. “We really need to think about retreating.”

“Perhaps that’s why your people came to help us!” Temirzhan commented. “They’re here to facilitate our escape!”

“If that’s the case, they’d better hurry!” Sarah said. “We’re going to be overrun!”

A tiny hand with tiny scales pushed my leg.

“Out of my way!” Dolim got down on all fours and quickly punched a series of commands into the intercom terminal.

“This way,” The reptilian engineer said, “We’ll be prepared for the next maneuver!”

Battle chatter from the rest of the ship began to ring out over the comm!

“Report!” Manako demanded.

“Hull breach along deck two!” Reepi answered. “The nuclear plant is still running!”

“What about life support?”

“We’re still breathing!” Elsina confirmed. “Air is good!”

“Kalili, who the hell just shot us!?”

There was a pause while Kailani and the other bridge crew members tried to figure out exactly what had just attacked our ship.

“Aw, Son of Inari!” Kailani responded! “Sir, it’s a Heavy Cruiser! Fifty Kios ahead and closing fast with weapons hot!”


Caption said:
The (fully infected) HMS Sarda, a relic from the Levakian Uprising, joins the battle. The ship is a Zivon-class Heavy Cruiser, these vessels were once the mainstay Super-Capitol ships of the Kingdom of Partoga, and have largely been replaced with the Irirangi-class Battleship.
“All hands, brace! Brace! Brace!” Manako warned just before the ship heeled over into another high-gee maneuver!

This time, we were kind of ready. Everyone grabbed onto something solid as the Kakama turned and twisted violently underneath us! Temirzhan, Sarah, and I were dashed on the ceiling again, but nobody went flying this time. My back pressed against metal, I could feel an intense throbbing run through the hull as our torpedo tubes and laser cannons were put through their paces. Out the window, I saw the massive profile of an infected Heavy Cruiser pass by our starboard flank.

“The cruiser’s coming around for another pass!” Kailani shouted.

“Hard to port! Reload both of the forward torpedo tubes and give me a firing solution for the rear tube!” Manako ordered. “Elsina, what do we know about that cruiser, any weaknesses?”

“That’s an old ship from the Levakian Uprising!” the lioness replied. “Hull markings say it’s the HMS Sarda! She’s a Zivon-class Heavy Cruiser, they were retired from service because of outmoded short-range sensors!”

“Short-range sensors?” he replied. “Can we use that to our advantage?”

“Yes, we can!” Elsina confirmed. “Zivon sensors can be defeated with holograms and cloaking devices!”

“Bridge calling Cloak Generator!” Manako spoke to my team through the intercom. “Get our cloak back as quick as you can, we’re about to fight a Heavy Cruiser!”

In our little corner of the ship, Dolim took charge.

“Everyone, check the connections and power supplies! Call out breaks in the line as you find them!”

Sarah, Dolim, Yukiko, Temirzhan, Tsubaki, and I frantically started moving around the cables and pipes leading into the Cloaking Sail, patching breaks as we went. While I stitched two fuel lines together with sealant, we heard another voice over the intercom!

Mahuika calling Kakama! That cruiser’s making a run on the Tryna!” Makara shouted. “Draw their fire away from Jericho!”

“Copy all!” Manako replied, “Lock lasers and move us in for an attack run!”

“Bridge, wait!” Temirzhan hollered. “Our cloak isn’t up yet!”

Before any of us could raise the alarm, I heard the Kakama’s engines suddenly spool up to full thrust before we embarked on our most violent maneuver yet! The entire ship rotated 45 degrees along her axis before accelerating hard!

“They’re turning to engage us!” Elsina shouted. “Incoming!”

WHAM!

Something hit the starboard side of the Kakama with incredible force! All six of us lost our grip and flew towards the outside wall, crashing into it hard enough to draw blood and crack bones! Dolim got trapped underneath Yukiko, who had hit her head and fallen unconscious. Tsubaki’s (cybernetic) right leg twisted in an unnatural way and broke, sending bits of metal shrapnel and droplets of oil flying in all directions! Sarah flew into a power cable running from the ceiling into the Cloaking Sail, it briefly wrapped around her neck before breaking in two and allowing her to continue her fall.

“What the hell was that!?” Temirzhan yelled into the intercom.

“Sorry down there!” Soylent’s voice replied. “We just got our asses kicked!”


Caption said:
The Kakama is blasted in the flank by an infected Firelance Frigate.
“All hands, stay where you are!” Manako ordered. “Gunners, engage that Ion Cannon Frigate! Center-right quadrant, port side! Kalili! Hard to port and throttle engines ahead slow!”

The Kakama heeled over and brought her upper stern weapons to bear against a Hiigaran Ion Cannon Frigate. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered that someone had once called these things “Firelances.”

Up in the dorsal laser turret, Soylent Green and Hal Macintosh poured hot violet into the enemy vessel, deflecting its main weapon away on our ship! At the same time, a torpedo launched from the rear tube and finished off the enemy!

“Commander! Tube three is out of ammo!” Adil reported over the intercom. “We’ve got one torpedo in the tube now but that’s it!”

A mass driver round sailed past the dorsal turret and clipped our radio tower!

“Damnit Temirzhan!” Manako chimed in, “That cruiser’s got our number! We need our cloak back right now!”

I pointed to the cable Sarah had just broken!

“We need to fix that line!” I reminded the team.

With a great big heave and a small pop! Dolim freed himself from underneath Yukiko’s limp form. I was quite alarmed to see that not all of the reptilian engineer had escaped. Dolim’s tail had broken off entirely and was presumably still trapped underneath Yukiko, leaving our Kelt friend looking even smaller than he already was.

“It grows back.” Dolim quipped, noticing where I was looking. He pulled a roll of electrical tape from his pocket and pointed up towards the broken cable. “Throw me up there!”

It only took one try to launch Dolim in the right direction! Deftly catching the broken wire, Dolim started to reconnect the two halves of the cable while the rest of us (sans Yukiko) did our final checks on the rest of the Cloaking Sail.

“System’s looking good over here!” Temirzhan called out! “Robinson, how’s it on your end?”

“Thermal regulators are online!” I called back! “We just need power!”

Dolim wrapped one more loop of electrical tape around the newly repaired cable and gave it a tug.

“Secure!” he shouted.

“Cloak to bridge!” I yelled. “We’re ready to run silent!”

“Sir!” Kailani added. “Partogan Heavy Cruisers are weak from behind! Their engines are exposed!”

“Copy all!” Manako replied. “All hands, brace for High-Gee maneuver!”

Tsubaki detached her broken prosthetic leg and hooked it on a floor fixture, hanging on for dear life! I pushed off the floor and grabbed Yukiko, making sure she wouldn’t get hurt in the weightless melee to come! Thrusters firing madly, the Kakama started darting around the enemy flanks just as she started to vanish!

“We’re running silent!” Temirzhan confirmed.

“Torpedo tubes one through three loaded and ready!” Elsina reported. “Tube three is on their last torpedo!”

“Laser turrets awaiting target!” Soylent chimed in.

“Helm, put us between the Tryna and the cruiser!” Manako ordered. “On my signal, swing us out and around to the starboard, prepare to orbit the enemy with medium eccentricity, put our periapsis just above his engine bell!”

In our little room, my comrades and I held on for dear life as the ship maneuvered and twisted beneath us! Out the window, our view of the enemy cruiser shifted as the Kakama took up a firing position directly in front of the enemy!

“In position, we’re ready!” Kailani said.

“Drop the cloak! Open fire!”

The Kakama re-appeared directly in front of the enemy cruiser! We were now less than two hundred feet away from the cruiser’s bow! So close that even out my window, I could see the enemy turrets starting to swivel towards us!

“Target the Ion Cannons!” Manako shouted! “Tubes one and two, fire!”

A pair of torpedoes sped away from the Kakama and hit the nose of the enemy cruiser before detonating their warheads! Both Ion Cannons broke free of their mounting and spun off into space!

“Move!” Manako yelled!

The Kakama darted to the right as the Heavy Cruiser opened fire with its large mass driver guns and Infection Beam attack. The charged particle beam pancaked on our Psionic shield, doing no damage and failing to pass the virus onto us! Everyone cheered!

“Thank Sajuuk for Jericho!” Temirzhan yelled.

“Guardian angel of the void!” Kanti added.

The Heavy Cruiser’s turrets swiveled around, trying to track the Kakama as she moved, but Manako had one last surprise in store!

“Cloak us!” He ordered. “Helm, raise our altitude relative to the enemy by fifty Bios! Go right over his damned head!”

Dolim and I fired up the Cloaking Sail one more time! Now we were so close to the enemy that the infected cruiser was partially inside of our own Cloaking field! At once, all of the enemy’s gun turrets began to spin around and face nonsensical directions! One mass driver actually turned so far around that it locked in place, sparks and flame shooting out of its base!

“We scrambled their sensors!” Elsina reported. “It’s now or never!”

“Laser cannons, standby to engage!” Manako yelled.

The Kakama put her nose down and dove! The world around us turned red as we flew straight into the exhaust plume of the enemy cruiser’s engine array! The silhouette of the Kakama was visible for just a moment before we sprang our ambush! Soylent shouted as loudly as he could:

“SURPRISE MOTHERFUCKER!!”

The Kakama de-cloaked and opened fire! Both of our laser turrets tore into the enemy, firing directly into the engine block! The last torpedo rocketed out of our rear tube and embedded itself in the enemy before detonating in a fantastic explosion! Flesh and metal alike were pulverized under the bombardment! Disabled, the cruiser drifted away from us, its guns falling silent.

“Cruiser down!” Kailani cheered!

Everybody aboard the Kakama cheered and yelled themselves hoarse! I grabbed Yukiko and shook her awake, and she started to join in the celebration before someone yelled over the intercom:

“We’ve still got almost twenty-thousand enemy cruisers out there! Keep up the fire!”

“NO! We need to withdraw!”

To this day, I’m not sure if Jericho had talked over the radio or if her voice had telepathically spoken in all of our minds. Either way, the message came through and everyone understood it. Jericho’s Psionic shields wouldn’t last forever, and we simply couldn’t win a battle of attrition against the Beast. Not right now. Makara Ranginui’s voice sounded across the comm net for all of our forces to hear:

“This is Fleet Command! All ships break contact and prepare for Emergency Hyperspace Jump! Capitol and Production ships, cast your fields wide so you can Wake Jump the frigates!”

Manako addressed everybody aboard the Kakama.

“All crew, stay in place! We’re going to perform an Emergency Wake Jump alongside the Tantomile!”

“Wake Jump?” Tsubaki repeated. “What’s that?”

“The Tantomile’s gonna pull us into Hyperspace behind her!” Dolim answered. “We’ll stay at a safe distance so we don’t get irradiated!”

“Wake Jump protocols initiated!” Kailani said. “Everyone hang on, we’re gonna jump in a minute!”

It was the longest sixty seconds of my life, but for tens of thousands of people that day, it was their last. The Triple Alliance Armada broke contact and began to flee from the enemy, but the Beast gave chase! Just 45 seconds before the jump, our fleet finally lost its Psionic shield and became vulnerable at last. Fighters and Corvettes were picked off by the dozen, missiles and torpedoes rained down on our frigates and Destroyers. Ion Beams raked our Capitol ships, disabling crucial systems at the last moment!

With 30 seconds left until the Hyperspace Jump, several mass driver rounds struck the Kakama in the stern, causing us to lurch forward and tumble through space! Tsubaki grabbed my hand and Dolim held onto mine as centrifugal force sent us all hurtling towards the walls again!

In the last few moments, the enemy concentrated their fire on our Super-Capitol ships, determined to stop as many of our Cruisers, Carriers, and Motherships from escaping as possible! A Blorg Battleship fell out of formation and exploded, the flare of light and fire brighter even than the nearby star itself!

Hyperspace Jump engaged.

And then, at long last, a Quantum Wavefront washed over the Kakama, taking us away from the scene of carnage.



Saturday, August 2, 2036 – 5:00am
Proxima Centauri Star System, United Nations of Earth, The Galactic Front Line



I woke up to the sound of a loud bang and metal scraping. For the first time since the Battle of Sirius began, the blast door separating the Cloaking Sail from the rest of the ship was finally opened, and two Triple Alliance crew worked their way inside.

“Aha! I told you we’d come get you!” Elsina bragged. “How long have you guys been without gravity?”

“The whole time.” Tsubaki grumbled. She was floating upside down (relative to Elsina) and had the look of someone who would never be comfortable sleeping in zero-g. “Did you guys have gravity this whole time?”

“Kinda.” Reepi answered as he followed Elsina into the room. “The ship’s stern took the worst hits. The farther back you go, the fewer Grav-plates are working. Watch your step, by the way. It’s 10% of normal gravity in the next room.”

While Reepi and Elsina had been extracting us from our almost-final tomb, the rest of the armada had re-assembled in the Proxima Centauri system, a region of space very close to Earth.

“It’s just a stone’s throw from here to your Homeworld.” Kailani had explained.

Clearly, these spacefaring people had different ideas about how to measure distances. Maybe the expression’s meaning changes once faster-than-light travel becomes possible. I made a mental note to ask Mira about it when we got back to Earth. Speaking of which…Now that things were quiet and calm, I finally got my first look at the Human warships that had come to our aid.



According to Manako Ranginui, these vessels were the latest additions to the United Nations Navy. There were fourteen ships in all, built and operated by different member-states of the UN. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pride when I spotted two spaceplanes bearing the flag and colors of the United States. Someone told me they were called the Old Ironsides and Old Glory, both names were references to moments from early US history.

The Battlemaster-class Gunship had been designed by the Chinese military and quickly adopted by the rest of AFUNE. The vessel itself was a sleek design. These spaceplanes were designed to operate in or near Earth’s atmosphere, and had a dual-cycle engine to accommodate the job. If the Battlemasters needed to fly in space, they would switch their airbreathing engines to a closed-cycle mode that burned liquid hydrogen instead of jet fuel. Out of the 14 Battlemasters, only one had a Hyperspace Module. The HMAS Bushranger had been built in Australia and was the first vessel in a “new generation” of Battlemasters. Supposedly, there was a fifteenth ship under construction at Earth.

As for the ships themselves, each spaceplane packed a whole lot of firepower. There were four mass driver turrets total, two on the dorsal fuselage and two on the ventral side. Each wing possessed six missile pylons, allowing the spaceplane to carry up to twelve anti-ship missiles into battle. These missiles were tipped with 150-Kiloton nuclear warheads. A single Battlemaster carried enough firepower to wipe a small country like Ireland or Korea completely off the face of the Earth.

The UN fleet sent a representative to meet the leaders of the Triple Alliance Armada aboard the LVK Tantomile, and luckily enough, all of my teammates, plus Yukiko and Sarah, were with me aboard the ship at the same time. We were on our way to check in on Jericho at the time, and she had been able to meet us in the hangar bay as we disembarked from the wrecked and battered Kakama. (Tsubaki had to hobble along on her ruined leg) As soon as Jericho spotted our group, she made it known how happy she was to see us.

“You’re alive!” Jericho hugged Tsubaki so tightly that the latter soldier let out a squeaking noise. “I was so scared for you guys!”

“Scared for us?” Kathleen challenged. “It looks like we should be scared for you! Wha’ happened over there?”

Kathleen wasn’t kidding around. Jericho had dark circles under her eyes, her face had gone pale, and she looked thoroughly worn-out; even her eyes had lost most of their color, turning light grey. Jericho hand-waved Kathleen’s concerns.

“I exhausted myself defending the fleet.” Jericho explained. “I mean, I kinda knew that was going to happen. That’s why I’m here now. I’m recharging.”

It was going to take some time, but Jericho’s Gift would regenerate, something we were all quite happy to know about right now.

“So, do you think you’ll be able to shield us again when the Beast gets to Earth?” I asked.

Jericho shrugged.

“Hopefully I’ll be using the Trinity, so it won’t be necessary.” She said. “But I’ll keep that in mind.”

As we moved to one side of the hangar bay, one of the Battlemaster spaceplanes came in for a landing. The long and narrow hangar floor made for a perfect runway, allowing the Bushranger to taxi on her wheels and come to rest near the Kakama. A boarding ramp descended from the midsection of the fuselage, just behind what I guessed to be a crew area, and four people emerged, one of whom I recognized.

“I don’t believe it, it’s Lee!” I shouted!

North Korean pilot Lee Chong-Il waved at us before running our way. The look of shock on his face didn’t quite register until he was within ten feet or so.

“I’ll be damned, you’re all still alive!” Chong-Il said as he arrived. “All eight of you still kickin’, that’s freaking incredible! You guys don’t know how many gamblers you just bankrupted!”

“Is it too late to place my bets?” Kathleen joked. “We’re not home yet.”

Chong-Il laughed before he got back to business.

“Look guys, a lot’s gone down since you left. Come find me after this big meeting and I’ll get you your messages from home.”

“Messages from home?” Tsubaki repeated. “Who!?”

“Did Chihiro send anything?” I interrupted. “Is she okay?”

“Yes and yes.” Chong-Il replied, pointing at me. “Find me afterward.”



The commanding officer of the UN Fleet was this American woman named Marie Ferrell, and as we found out, her fleet had been given the mission of rescuing any ships near Earth that were ambushed by the Beast. The Triple Alliace Armada was, without question, the biggest catch of Ferrell’s career, and she was beside herself on what to do next.

Once Ferrell was escorted into the Tantomile’s main conference hall, she came face to face with Queen Kendra, the Vanian Conclave of Telepaths, and Jericho. (who, apparently, Ferrell had thought to be dead) Admitting that she was very far out of her depth, Ferrell pointed out something crucial that none of us had thought of before:

“Earth doesn’t have the facilities or food supply to support a fleet this large. You guys had better pray the war ends soon, ‘cause you can’t just hang around Earth for too long. You’ll starve us to death.”

“Can you put us in contact with the UN government?” Queen Kendra asked. “This may be our only opportunity to end the war quickly, and it must be seized!”

Captain Ferrell nodded.

“Sure. There’s a bunch of people on Earth who are itching to talk to you anyway.”



While the AFUNE reps and Triple Alliance delegation worked to figure out a plan for getting the entire armada to Earth quickly, I took my fellow Stormbreakers to find Lee Chong-Il. We left Yukiko behind at the meeting because this sort of function was her forte.

Sarah, Tsubaki, Kathleen, Soylent, Hal, and I found Chong-Il inside of the crew area of the Dreadnaught. It was our first time aboard a Battlemaster, and I’m pretty sure we were all acting like hapless tourists, taking in the unusual sights with many oohh’s and aahh’s.

I once compared the inside of Partogan starships to the interior of a nuclear submarine. The inside of the Dreadnaught was like walking around a B-29 bomber. It was so cramped that everyone except Tsubaki and Sarah ran the risk of hitting their heads on the ceiling. Soylent Green was such a big and tall man that he actually had trouble fitting his muscular frame through the doorways on either end of the crew compartment, and he genuinely did not fit inside of the cockpit, which had clearly been designed with smaller Humans in mind.


Caption said:
The interior of the Battlemaster-class gunship Dreadnaught, photographed in 2036 sometime between the Battle of Barnard's Star and the War in Heaven.
Once we all had our tour of the ship, Chong-Il directed our attention towards a computer in the crew area.

“We’ve got messages for all of you.” he said, “Make sure you send Jericho and Yukiko to see me as well, alright?”

Kathleen was up first. A short video began to play: Alexis Alexander, one of the many American warlords currently fighting for control of the US Presidency, appeared on screen. My heart did a little flutter at the sight of Alexander, who I’ll always consider an old friend.

“Walsh!” Alexander said. “I heard you and Robinson might still be alive out there! I’m hoping and praying for you both to come home safe! Get back here before the war ends, alright? It’s not fair if I have all the fun!”

The screen went blank.

“Endo, this is for you.” Chong-Il played the next video.

Three people appeared on-screen: a Japanese man, a Human-Viper Hybrid, and Chihiro Tachibana. One by one, all three individuals spoke in Japanese, addressing Tsubaki. I probably could have understood a quarter of what they were saying, but I was too distracted. I hadn’t seen my wife in over six months… and there she was! Chihiro looked a little tired, and her long black hair was more frazzled than usual, but she seemed to be happy. My wife’s smile seemed to transfer to Tsubaki, as she grew more and more excited with each moment until the video stopped playing.

“What’s up?” Sarah asked. “What did they say?”

“Chihiro got my old place back!” Tsubaki choked, crying with joy. “My old family apartment above the restaurant in Nagasaki!”

For Soylent, there were words of encouragement from his nephew. A bunch of Resistance fighters who had once served in the same police precinct as Hal Macintosh promised to meet him when he returned to Earth, and finally, there was a video addressed to Sarah Harris that blew us all away! Someone had convinced nearly a quarter of the population of Christchurch (a town in New Zealand) to gather in front of a camera and record a message of support for Sarah. Our Kiwi translator burst into tears as her friends and neighbors wished her a safe return to Earth.

Finally, I was last. As I traded places with Sarah in front of the computer, I noticed that Chong-Il was regarding me with a sly smile, like a prankster who was on the verge of revealing his greatest work of trickery.

“Lee, do you know something I don’t?” I asked.

Chong-Il simply nodded and pressed play.

Chihiro Tachibana appeared onscreen alone, and she looked very, very nervous. I felt an uncomfortable lurch in my stomach, and no small amount of fear bubbled up in the back of my mind.

“So, they just told me you might be alive, Blake.” Chihiro said, her voice trembled like she was about to cry. “And there’s so, so much that I wanna say, and I don’t know where to start, and I have to keep this short. I thought of a hundred different ways to do this, but in the end, I decided to keep it simple. Blake… There’s… uh… there’s someone I want you to meet.”

And then Chihiro stood up and left the frame. Soylent, Tsubaki, Sarah, Hal, and Kathleen all gasped, which really didn’t help.

Ever hear the expression “my imagination ran amok?”

My imagination ran amok.

Fifteen different versions of what would happen next played through my mind in rapid succession, each more unpleasant and fearful than the last. I lived through a nightmare in which Chihiro had remarried. I imagined her going back to Tokyo to live with the Imperial family. I was just starting to picture another scenario that would end with me losing my wife when Chihiro suddenly re-appeared on screen, carrying a large bundle.

I saw what was in her hands, and my heart leapt into my throat to pound furiously against my windpipe! I might as well have been electrocuted! I couldn’t think straight, and nothing else mattered or made sense. The only thing in the world I could focus on or care about was the six-month-old child cradled in Chihiro’s arms, who had caramel-colored skin and light purple eyes. The baby yawned and looked into the camera with a curious expression. Just like her mother, the little girl was dressed in a light blue outfit. Chihiro introduced us:

“Blake Alexander, I’d like you to meet Himawari Alexandria.”

My mind when blank. I struggled to make any noises or sounds that weren’t mindless babbling, but little Himawari beat me to it. She saw my image on her screen, hiccupped once, and then burst into hysterical laughter! My new daughter pointed at me with one hand before placing that hand firmly in her own mouth and sucking on it. I couldn’t help but laugh as well.

“Well hello to you too!” I said.

The smile on Chihiro’s face flickered.

“Uh, Blake… she’s deaf. She can’t hear you.”

Oh.

Well, that news definitely put a damper on my mood, but it didn’t last long. Himawari’s eyes had been locked on the digital image of me this whole time. So, I leaned forward and gave her the biggest smile I could.

“But she can see me just fine… and I can’t wait to see her in person!”


 
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Wait, Himawari’s deaf? Since when?

Also, Astynome isn’t defeated, right? So, our protagonists will have to face both her and Agamemnon in the War in Heaven?

Do our protagonists want to separate the End of the Cycle from the Beast, by the way? It’s the only way to stop the collapse of Psionics, sure, but all the space people seem to hold a grudge against Akira....
 

Macavity116

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Wait, Himawari’s deaf? Since when?
Himawari Robinson was born deaf. The reason why this happened has been hinted at, but never confirmed.

Chihiro did pay a price to the Eater of Worlds during the Battle of Lanai, even if that price wasn't immediately apparent.

Since she was unborn at the time, Himawari was still "part of Chihiro" and was considered to be fair game when the Eater of Worlds offered its bargain.

Her deafness was first hinted at during Chapter 33: Everything is Different Now, when the narration mentioned Chihiro was reading a book about how to raise deaf children. Her disability was fully confirmed during Chapter 35: Our Angel of the Shining Hinterlands, when Chihiro used sign language to introduce Adrian and Odette Fournier to her daughter, using the signs for "Uncle" and "Cousin" respectively.


Also, Astynome isn’t defeated, right? So, our protagonists will have to face both her and Agamemnon in the War in Heaven?
Correct. Astynome was wounded at the Battle of Barnard's Star and is still very much alive and active.


Do our protagonists want to separate the End of the Cycle from the Beast, by the way?
No one has raised the idea or even considered the thought. Even Mira has been considering Agamemnon and the End of the Cycle as a single entity.
 
Chapter 39: Pale Blue Dot

Macavity116

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Welcome readers, to the final act break in the Stormbreaker Trilogy. I'm getting some real end-of-series nervousness here.

I'm planning for there to be a few War Stories before Act Four begins. (Check the Table of Contents on the first post to see the names of upcoming War Stories)

As I tend to do a lot, I humbly thank everyone for reading my story thus far. To those of you who have read the story in its entirety since day one of After Everything, you have my humble gratitude.

I hope you'll join me when the time comes for the final chapters of not just The Stormbreakers, but the ending of the entire Stormbreaker Trilogy!



Chapter Thirty-Nine
Pale Blue Dot


Wednesday, August 6, 2036 – 9:30am
Sol Star System, United Nations of Earth, The Galactic Front Line


The Triple Alliance Armada arrived in the Sol System without fanfare or reception. It should have been a time to celebrate or relax after our harrowing seven-month journey back to Earth, but the mood had been dampened considerably.

The Beast Mothership, Astynome, and her now-massive escort fleet were so close to Earth that they could be seen from Pluto through a telescope. Agamemnon wasn’t far behind.

We split our forces as the armada entered the Outer Solar System. Defensive lines were drawn from Pluto to the asteroid belt. Hyperspace Inhibitors were strategically placed all over the system, forcing any potential invader to follow a path that would cross those positions. Our Vaygr allies deployed their own Hyperspace Gates at crucial locations around the system, allowing a starship to travel from Earth to any other planet in the system in just a matter of seconds.

All of this was done with some help from the Stormbreakers. It was our home system, after all. Yukiko tipped the Triple Alliance off about the resource-rich asteroids that orbited the four giant worlds, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, and Jupiter. The valuable minerals and ores drawn from the rocky worlds were put to use repairing the more seriously damaged vessels in the armada, while Resource Collectors and Mobile Refineries stockpiled as many resources as possible, to deny them to the enemy. A Levakian forward operating base was built on Hyperion, one of the moons of Saturn, while the automated Micore ships took to systematically strip-mining Callisto and Ganymede for resources.

While the harvester fleet was left to carry on, the Tantomile, Tryna, Kakama, Mahuika, and Nomad Moon continued towards Earth. However, the Taiidani battlestation had to be left behind before we passed by Mars. The Nomad Moon was so massive and heavy that it generated its own gravitational field. As soon as the station passed through the asteroid belt, the dwarf planet Ceres was perturbed in its orbit so badly that some of us feared it might just escape the solar system entirely. As we left the Nomad Moon behind with orders to help set up the defensive positions, her commander warned us:

“Astynome and Agamemnon are far larger than us. The enemy will be able to weaponize gravity itself against us. We should be prepared.”

Then, at long last, we were home.

One short-range Hyperspace jump put the Tantomile and Mahuika into a very high orbit above the Moon, looking down on a certain pale blue dot that shone in the darkness of space like a shimmering marble. We could see the Earth below, calm and tranquil. But Yukiko drew our attention to something else:

“Look at that! That’s the Trinity!

Even from here, we could see the monstrous weapon platform orbiting Venus. It reflected so much light from the sun that I’m sure Venus had lost its title as the brightest object in the night sky. Manako Ranginui finished speaking with someone over the intercom and came to join us.

“A UN warship is coming to meet us.” He said. “I don’t think I need to emphasize that there’s no small amount of celebration going on down on the planet right now.”

Tsubaki, who was walking with the aid using an improvised walking stick made from a metal pipe, asked:

“So does that mean we can go straight home?”

“I’m afraid not.” Manako replied. “You folks have one last detour to take.”



In the hangar bay of the Mothership Tantomile, my team and I waited anxiously for the arrival of our ride out of here. Behind us, a large team of engineers had descended upon the Kakama, which was about to receive a long-overdue repair and refit. Soylent and Hal both cast nostalgic looks back at the battered old Assault Frigate.

“That ship’s a tough old bird.” Soylent remarked. “Wonderful piece of work.”

“Fulla history, too.” Hal added. “Did you ever talk to that Levakian Elsina? She says that thing’s over a hundred years old, and that it used to belong to some great Empress or something like that.”

“If it survives the war, I say we turn Kakama into a museum ship.” I added.

I couldn’t help but feel a little regret. I had meant to ask Elsina about the life story of Empress Coricopat, the historical figure who had once owned the Kakama, but I had never gotten around to it. But those thoughts didn’t last long in my mind, because a UN spaceplane swooped into the hangar bay and used the entire length of the hangar floor to taxi to a stop. While two of its crew members rushed to re-pack the parachutes used to slow the vehicle down, three more people descended the boarding ramp and waved at us.

“That’s our ride!” Kathleen said. “Let’s go!”

Letting Tsubaki lean on my shoulder, I followed the group towards the spaceplane. As we drew closer, I could see the flag and words painted on the fuselage. When we were just fifty feet away from the ship, I stopped moving and Tsubaki nearly fell over.

“Blake! What’s the problem!?” she complained.

I pointed to the UN spaceplane. I had finally gotten close enough to clearly make out the words painted on the side in big black letters, and they had caused me great alarm:


“United Nations of Earth – JSDF Ark Angel”

The three people standing at the bottom of the boarding ramp looked to where I was pointing, and then one of them ran over to us, waving his arms.

“Woah, woah, woah! It’s not Akira! She’s not here!”

Chinese military commander Shaojie Zhang had to shout to get my attention. He grabbed me by the shoulder and gave my whole body a vigorous shake in greeting.

“Although you’ve got to admit this is impressive!” Zhang said. “We salvaged the wreck of the original ship from Jilin, and used some of the components to build the new version!”

“New version?” I repeated.

“Sure!” Zhang answered. “I guess you can call this the Ark Angel mark two. Roughly twenty-five percent of the ship is the original vessel Akira was using. The rest is built from scratch. Of course, we had to acknowledge everything Akira did to help us overthrow the Elders, so the badly translated name was allowed to stand.”

The new Ark Angel had a few stark differences from the one I had last seen languishing in a Chinese hangar: First, the insignia of the Japan Self Defense Force had been painted onto the tail. Also, the engines had been redesigned to incorporate Partogan technology. Finally, the fuselage had been slightly elongated for reasons that were beyond me. I assumed this version of the Ark Angel was using a new technology the previous one had not.

Waiting for us at the bottom of the ramp were two members of XCOM: Central Officer Holly Smith and Corporal Sophia Kuznetsova. Smith and Soylent grabbed one another in a very tight embrace at the first opportunity!

“Bloody hell, you gave us all a right good scare, Soylent!” Holly seemed to be holding back tears.

“Happy to see you too, mate.” Soylent replied.

Kathleen, Tsubaki, Sarah, Hal, and I all tackled Sophia in a big group hug.

“I’m sorry no one else is here.” Our Russian comrade mumbled. “Everyone else is either busy or not allowed to fly in space.”

“Stop givin’ out and just hug me!” Kathleen said. “God, I’ve missed everyone so much! I can’t wait to get back to Earth.”

“Just be a little more patient.” Sophia said. “We’ve got to make a stop at the Trinity first.”

“The Trinity?” I repeated. “How come?”

The answer came from behind me, at the bottom of the ramp:

“I need to talk to some people about ending this war.”

Jericho had arrived, pushing the Partogan Queen Kendra in her wheelchair. Kendra was busy talking to the same one-armed old man I’d spotted at Aoraki a few months back. Jericho was wearing a backpack that was laden down with something very heavy.

“Her Majesty and I have some business with AFUNE leadership at the Trinity.” Jericho told me. “Then we’ll drop you off on Earth. I’m sure you guys are anxious to see old friends again.”

“Not as anxious as Tachibana.” Sophia quipped. “Be ready, Robinson. When I left, she was rehearsing how she’s gonna introduce you to your kid.”

“Kid!?” Jericho repeated, looking excited! “Oh, yeah that’s right! It’s August! Asuna’s going to be born in a few weeks!”

“Asuna?” Sophia and I both repeated. “Who?”

“Hey, Jericho! Your Intel’s bad.” Sophia commented. “The kid’s name is Himawari, and she was born about six months ago.”



Don’t let the history books or tv programs lie to you. Flying aboard the Ark Angel was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life. There is absolutely nothing glorious about crossing the Solar System in a pressurized tube barely big enough to fit ten people! None of us could stretch our arms or legs without hitting somebody else. On top of that, standing up in the crew compartment is impossible because of all the equipment strapped to the ceiling.

Oh, did I mention standing up? You can’t do that in flight at all. As it turns out, the designers of the Battlemaster-class gunship had decided to completely forgo artificial gravity generators in order to free up electrical power for other systems. The only way you can ever “walk” on this ship is if it’s on a runway… on a planet!

Then there’s the weird way the ship goes about Hyperspace Jumps. See, on every Triple Alliance ship I’ve been on before now, the crew would have to hide in Radiation Shelters during Jumps because of the lethal gamma radiation put out by Hyperspace Modules. The Ark Angel and her sistership, the Bushranger, both took this concept and turned it on its head:

Aboard the Ark Angel, the Hyperspace module is fully sealed inside of a “cocoon” made from solid lead. The lead cocoon absorbs the gamma rays, making it safe for the crew of the ship to stay at their posts during a Jump. Unfortunately, lead is extremely dense. The sheer weight of the Hyperspace Cocoon severely hampers the performance of both the sublight engines and the Hyperspace module itself. The farthest the Ark Angel can travel in a single jump is five light-years, whereas the Kakama can do nearly two hundred light-years in one go.

Thankfully for my own sanity, today’s Hyperspace jump carried us only a few million miles away from the Earth, and towards a rendezvous above my homeworld’s hellish twin.



Caption said:
The main body of the Triple Alliane fleet arrives at the Sol System. Hiigaran, Blorg ,Taiidani, and Scyldari forces can also be seen.
Wednesday, August 6, 2036 – 3:00pm
L2 Lagrange Point of Venus, Sol System, Galactic Front Line



Our arrival at the Trinity construction site caused one hell of a disruption. Wherever a window faced the approaching Ark Angel, members of nearly every spacefaring civilization in the Galaxy had gathered to watch our approach. Ships of varying size and configuration throttled down their engines and gave us the right-of-way, while one of the Trinity’s largest hangar bays opened up to receive us.

The Trinity itself was gargantuan. Once we got within a few hundred miles of the weapon, it was impossible to keep the entire thing in view at once. While Sophia talked our ears off about the weapons specs and size, Jericho had eyes only for the centermost section of hull, as though she already knew what was hidden deep within. I had to remind myself that Jericho had helped to design this thing, so it was quite possible she did indeed know what was waiting for us inside.

In the hangar, there might as well have been a ticker-tape parade waiting for us. Some two thousand Humans, Partogans, Hiigarans, Levakians, Taiidani, and other assorted aliens welcomed us with overwhelming cheers and applause as the boarding ramp lowered into place. Over the heads of the reveling crowd, I spotted three people making their way towards us from another part of the hangar.

XCOM’s former mobile headquarters, the Avenger, had landed next to the Ark Angel. Pushing and shoving their way past the crowd, Commander John Bradford, Doctor Richard Tygan, and Chief Engineer Lily Shen finally reached us, letting out loud exclamations of relief.

“Robinson, you made one helluvan entrance!” Bradford clapped me on the back. “Where the hell did you find this bigass fleet!?”

Tygan and Shen each allowed Tsubaki to rest on their shoulders. Carrying her between them, Shen said:

“You keep breaking or losing these artificial legs, Endo, and I’m just gonna get you some wheels. Prosthetics don’t grow on trees.”

Sharing a laugh at Tsubaki’s expense, Bradford greeted each of his lost soldiers as they descended the ramp. Soylent Green folded his arms and pointed up at the Avenger.

“No one touched my still?” he asked.

“Actually,” Bradford replied with a sly smile. “I saved the stuff you were brewing. Found a really nice oak barrel in a cellar in New Zealand and kept your brew in there. Just between you and me, Soylent, when this war’s over, you should seriously consider selling bourbon. I think you might have found a winning recipe.”

Shen pointed to the rest of the group and said:

“Everyone load up your gear on the Avenger! We’re going home as soon as Harper gives the word!”

“The Secretary-General is here?” Hal asked. “How come?”

Shen didn’t answer. She just pointed at Jericho. The young Hawaiian looked around the hangar and said:

“I’m guessing this thing has changed since we designed it. Care to show me the way to the Control Room?”



Unlike many other starships around the Galaxy, the Control Room of the Trinity is embedded deep within the superstructure, miles and miles away from the hangar bay. A transportation network akin to a modern subway ran through the interior of the station, interconnecting all of the crewed areas. Bradford called one of these traincars to the station at the back of the hangar, and Yukiko, Sarah, and I were chosen to accompany Jericho on her trip to the control room. We were followed onto the train by Bradford, Queen Kendra, and her elderly attendant. The journey to the core of the Trinity was undertaken in silence. Sarah and I spent most of our time looking out the windows, admiring the massive structure around us, but when we got there, we were in for one more surprise.

The Control Room itself was a dome-shaped area, accessible only by elevator. A massive structure stood in the center of the room, built from technologies and devices that I could barely understand. It was an obelisk of wire, circuit boards, hydraulics, and other unidentifiable tech. There were two people standing around the obelisk: Mira Mihaka and…

“VAHLEN!”

I couldn’t help it. I shouted the name of XCOM’s former chief scientist, a downright insane half-French, half-German woman who up until a second ago, I had thought was dead! Doctor Moria Vahlen, looking far more rugged than the last time I’d seen her, looked around at me and gasped!

“Blake Alexander Robinson! Alive and in the flesh!”

Vahlen ignored the other people who I had arrived with, walked right up to me, grabbed my arms and started to examine me, exactly the way she used to in the old days:

“Hhmm… Forty-three years old, although ADVENT seems to have taken a couple of decades off you.” Vahlen murmured. “These Genetic Modifications are downright primitive! You might be the only Human I ever gave enhanced leg muscles, Robinson. I suspect you’ve gotten very little use out of them, no?”

“Almost no use.” I confirmed. “And they don’t help in zero-g.”

I had learned a very long time ago to just let Vahlen do her thing when she got in the zone like this. The old scientist continued poking and prodding at me, muttering to herself.

“Not as muscular as I remember, perhaps a side effect of spending so much time in microgravity. I will need to borrow you for a space survivability study and…”

I cut her off.

“Doctor Vahlen,” I said. “Have you met my friend?”

I stood aside and allowed Vahlen to see Jericho, who jumped with surprise and started to turn a little red.

Oh, come on! Jericho’s telepathic voice spoke up in my mind. That was a dirty trick, Blake! I was hoping to do this some other time!

Doctor Vahlen looked at Jericho, back to me, then back at Jericho. Her eyes went as wide as saucers.

“It… It’s you!” Vahlen gasped. “It’s really you!”

Jericho grabbed the straps of her backpack and nodded nervously.

“Uh, huh. Yeah. It’s me.”

Vahlen gently touched Jericho’s face.

“The last time I saw you, you were a zygote! Full of potential and hope for the future!”

“And Meld.” Yukiko quipped. “I remember you pumped her so full of Meld that she was glowing orange for weeks. It looked like her mother had swallowed a jar full of fireflies!”

And just like that, the moment was killed.

Raucous laughter filled the control room as Mira fell to her knees, shaking with mirth. Queen Kendra probably would have fallen out of her wheelchair if that old man hadn’t been there to stabilize her, and Sarah was smiling so hard that she had begun to cry. After a moment, Mira made a loud exclamation in Partogan, which caused both Kendra and her companion to freeze.

“Wait a moment,” Kendra said, speaking in the Galactic Common. “You speak our language?”

I looked back at Mira. At this point, it had been over a year since that fateful battle in Vladivostok, where Mira had vacated her original body. Using her unique power of Astral Projection, Mira had permanently relocated herself into the body of an Avatar, a Human-Ethereal Hybrid built on the same technology and knowledge as Jericho herself.

Queen Kendra could be forgiven for failing to recognize Mira Mihaka as a Partogan. Hell, it took me a few extra seconds to realize who I was looking at as well. Since the last time I had seen her, Mira had done some cosmetic work on her new body, making it her own. She had completely shaven her head, darkened her skin to look more like a Maori or a Partogan, and there was also some kind of Psionic device permanently implanted in the side of her head. She was a new woman, a Partogan mind inside of a mostly-Human being.


Caption said:
Mira Mihaka, pictured during her cooperation with XCOM in the final weeks of the Second Hyperspace War. Due to the fact that she was under investigation by the Global Truth and Reconciliation Committee, Mira was not allowed to join XCOM as a uniformed member. Instead, her role in the war effort was restricted to an unsanctioned paramilitary combatant.
But then again… there was certainly a lot of evidence that Partogans and Humans are the same species… so I honestly can’t say I still considered Mira to be an “alien” these days.

Mira put her tablet computer in a niche in the side of the obelisk and approached Queen Kendra. Then she bent forward in a deep bow, until her body was bent at a ninety-degree angle.

“Warmest greetings, my Queen.” Mira said. “A century ago I promised we’d meet again. I apologize for keeping you waiting.”

Kendra’s jaw fell open. Yukiko and Bradford both said at the same time:

“Wait, you know her!?”

Queen Kendra recovered from the shock, then looked up at the old man pushing her wheelchair. She gave him a small smile and said:

“Like we rehearsed?”

“Of course.” The one-armed man replied.

Then both elderly Partogans spoke to Mira at the same time:

“General Waiano Kopunui, you’re fired!”

Mira couldn’t help but share the same laughter as Kendra and her companion.

“I guess I had that coming.” Mira answered. “Though I am still glad to see you again, Toa Wahine, and you, Eteka. I hope your grandchildren are well.”

“Manako and Makara are bringing the fleet in now.” The man called Eteka replied.

Mira then greeted Jericho, who hugged her adoptive mother so tightly I wondered if Mira’s head was just going to pop off its shoulders. Queen Kendra allowed them to have a moment before saying:

“Much was risked and sacrificed to bring her home, Mira. I hope you can make our efforts worthwhile.”

“That’s the plan.” Mira said. “Now that you’re back, Jericho, we can return to our original plan to end this war.”

Jericho unshouldered her backpack and unzipped it, allowing Mira and Doctor Vahlen to both look inside:

“We brought the Aetherium and Protodermis you need to finish the weapon!” Jericho said proudly.

Vahlen withdrew the big chunk of Aetherium crystal we’d been carrying around since our brief visit to Partoga. She looked it over before smiling.

“This will do nicely. Well done, all of you! I will begin to assemble the firing mechanism right away.”

“How long will it take?” Jericho asked. “The Beast is in Proxima Centauri, we can’t afford to wait very long.”

“Two or three days at most.” Vahlen replied. “Once it is done, all we need is for the female Ranginui to come back and help us complete the integration assembly.”

“Integration? I repeated, confused.

To my surprise, Jericho was able to answer my question. Clearly, she had not forgotten the design specs of the Trinity during our lengthy absence.

“It’s the system that’ll let me control and pilot the Trinity.” Jericho sounded a little nervous while she explained: “Makara designed the tech and tested it on herself a few years ago. Basically, I… uh… um. I control the Trinity by becoming a part of it. I’m going to be in there.”

She pointed to the obelisk.

An awed silence filled the room, which was broken a moment later by Eteka.

“You’ll become an Unbound.”

“Yes.” Jericho confirmed. “That’s the plan.”

Doctor Vahlen opened up a small hatchway in the obelisk and slid the Aetherium crystal inside of it. Closing the little doorway, Vahlen nonchalantly said:

“Bradford, when you go back to Earth, make sure to take Jericho with you. She will need to undergo preparatory surgery for the integration. Also, someone will need inform Mister Gardner that he is no longer needed.”

I saw Jericho’s mood go through a powerful whiplash as she quickly said:

“Wait, Duane!? What’s he got to do with this!?”

“Our backup plan.” Commander Bradford replied. “If you never came back, we were going to have him pilot the Trinity instead. I’ll fill you in on the details on the way back to Earth.”

Then he gestured to Queen Kendra and Eteka.

“If you follow me, we’ll be taking the Avenger back to Earth. Per your request, we’ve arranged a meeting with Secretary-General Harper to discuss plans for the defense of Earth and the Trinity.



Caption said:
Almost certainly the final picture of Michigan taken from orbit before the War in Heaven. Believed to have been snapped by someone aboard the Avenger.
Wednesday, August 6, 2036 – 1:00pm
Low Earth Orbit, Sol Star System, The Galactic Front Line



God, I missed the Avenger!

XCOM’s old ship is roomier and more spacious than the Battlemaster gunships, even if it lacks any kind of artificial gravity. As soon as we were aboard, Soylent, Kathleen, Hal, and I made our way to the bar. Soylent set to work figuring out how to serve beer in those drink pouches that work in zero-g while I seized a tablet computer and made a video call to Chihiro. She and Himawari were at XCOM Headquarters in Japan, waiting for us.

“We’re keeping ourselves busy while we wait.” Chihiro said. “The little one’s decided she wants to learn how to stand up on her own today.”

My teammates and I spent our flight back to Earth watching videos of Himawari learning how to stand upright. The six-month-old girl grabbed her mother’s arm and pulled herself up, locking her knees for a few seconds before falling over backwards and landing on her behind, to many giggles and laughs.

Meanwhile, Jericho, Mira, Queen Kendra, and Commander Bradford had a meeting in the Resistance Ring for about an hour before they came to join us. I couldn’t help but be amused by the fact that Partoga’s supercentenarian ruler was much more mobile in zero-g than in normal Gravity. Having left her wheelchair behind, Kendra was gently pulled into a seat at the bar by Jericho. One by one, the rest of the Stormbreakers arrived to share drinks with us. Soylent seemed to slide back into the role of bartender as easily as though he’d never left.

Sarah Harris was the only one among us who seemed less than happy about returning to Earth, and it was quite easy to see why. When she pushed herself off the wall and difted across the bar toward us, I spotted something shiny sticking out of one of her cargo pockets.

“Harris, you’ll need to secure that before we re-enter the atmosphere.” I said, pointing to it. “It looks sharp enough to stab you!”

Sarah reached into her pocket and placed a short dagger on the countertop. It started to drift away before Bradford grabbed it and took a closer look.

“Alright, Harris. None of XCOM’s combat knives look like this.” He said. “Where’d you get it.”

“That’s no ordinary knife, Commander.” Queen Kendra said. “That’s an Assurian courting gift! See the precious stones in the handle?”

While Bradford and Soylent took a closer look at the dagger, Kathleen asked:

“Alright, Harris. What’s his name?”

Sarah blushed, let out a high-pitched squeal, and buried her face in her hands, completely embarrassed. I laughed so hard that I almost missed the light tap on my shoulder and a soft voice in my ear.

“Hey, uh, speaking of gifts…”

Sophia Kuznetsova had just arrived. She situated herself on the bar stool next to me as best she could without gravity and said:

“Hey, so… your wife and her friend Sophie have been really kind to me while you were gone, and I just wanted to pay it forward.”

She put one hand deep into her cargo pocket and produced a piece of light blue fabric. It had a green-and-white triangular pattern woven into it, and I recognized it as one of her spare headscarves, although for the life of me I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen Sophia actually wearing it.

“Ludmilla made this.” Sophia explained. “I saw your little girl playing with it last time I was at your place, and… well…”

She pushed the scarf into my hands.

“Himawari will probably look really pretty with it.”

Before I could say anything, Sophia pushed off from the floor and started making for the exit. I turned around and called after her:

“Wait, why’d you give me this? Is everything alright?”

Sophia paused in the doorway. It seemed to take her forever to choose her answer. When she looked back at me, I could see the corners of Sophia’s eyes had crinkled in a rare smile.

“I’m alright, Blake.” Sophia warbled. “Better than I’ve been in a long time.”

Then she left.



Caption said:
XCOM Headquarters pictured from the air. Before the war, this place was called Nagasaki Airport. It was a crucial military target for both the Japanese and Soviet forces during World War Three. However, its strategic importance was ultimately overshadowed by larger airports found in Akita, Sendai, Tokyo, and Hiroshima. It should be noted that the city on the shoreline is not Nakasaki. That is the town of Omura. The actual city of Nagasaki is located to the south. (Beyond the right edge of the picture.)
Wednesday, August 6, 2036 – 4:35pm
XCOM Headquarters, Nagasaki, Kyushu Island, Earth



Once more, there was a mob of people waiting for us when the Avenger touched down at XCOM HQ. Humans, Hybrids, and Aliens alike cheered and celebrated our safe return. The sight of Jericho stepping down the boarding ramp damn near caused all of Nagasaki to riot!

Wrestling their way through the crowd, the Earthbound half of Stormbreaker Squad came to meet us as soon as we hit the tarmac. News reporters were made to wait their turn as Matthew Hawkins gave Soylent Green a huge bear hug, Sophie Ackermann offered Kathleen Walsh a swig from her flask, and Isis Dekker embraced Jericho, both women sobbing loudly at the sight of one another.

Central Officer Smith and Commander Bradford put up a valiant effort to part the crowds and give us all a clear shot to XCOM’s new command center.

“How the hell can this island hold so many people!?” Bradford yelled.

I didn’t care. I had eyes for only one person in the sea of Humanity that engulfed us.

Unlike for the rest of our squad, the assembled masses parted like the Red Sea as a young woman wearing a blue dress came our way. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen Chihiro Tachibana wearing civilian clothing, but I do know that once I spotted her, I couldn’t look away. Riding along in a baby carrier on her mother’s front, Himawari craned her neck as she tried to look at all of the people around her before she spotted me.

Those first few moments with Chihiro are kind of a blur for me. We didn’t let go of each other for a long time. Even Himawari got one of her little hands wrapped around my finger and held on tight. We were so happy to see each other that all we could do was cry. After a moment, Chihiro gave me a light punch in the chest.

“You said you’d only be gone for two weeks!” Chihiro sobbed. “You said you’d call!”

“Yeah, the Beast had other ideas.” I replied.

“I’m gonna kill the Beast for that.” Chihiro growled.

“You know, I brought a fleet of over a million ships back with me.” I said. “Just tell me where to point it.”

Himawari popped one of my fingers in her mouth and started sucking on it as though it were candy. Chi and I both laughed until we couldn’t breathe.

“Is that how she says hello?” I asked.

“Only to people she likes.” Chihiro giggled. “She just got her first tooth and she’s loving it!”



After about fifteen minutes of wrestling through the crowd, all of the Stormbreakers managed to push their way into XCOM HQ. Bradford and Shen were able to disburse the crowd and send most of the civilians home. At some point, Queen Kendra and Eteka broke off from their group and headed to a different section of XCOM HQ. They were being escorted by Bradford to their meeting with UN Secretary-General Laura Harper. Meanwhile, all of the Stormbreakers gathered together in a conference room on the ground floor.0000

Then the longest debrief in my life happened.

First, the Earthbound Stormbreakers told us what they had been doing since my team left. We heard about their battles with the sea monsters and the Deep One, and how the Deep One had turned out to be a Shroud-Being called the Composer of Strands. When I heard about how Chihiro had fought and vanquished the combined force of the Beast and the Whisperers in the Void, I was so impressed that I gave her a very long and intense kiss right in front of the entire squad. Mira explained how she suspected and ultimately confirmed a second Shroud-Being was inside of her Katana.

“The Eater of Worlds is an exceptionally dangerous creature.” Mira told us. “You, Tachibana, and myself were all in no small amount of danger when we wielded that weapon.”

The story of how Chihiro had given birth immediately after a battle made me feel sick, a feeling that was amplified when Chihiro told me how distant family members had come out of the woodwork to try and lay claim on Himawari.

“Your brother doesn’t surprise me all that much, Chi.” I said. “But if I remember Japanese law right, there’s a hitch. You got married me, a foreign commoner. Doesn’t that mean both you and Himawari are disqualified from ever rejoining the Imperial Family?”

“It wasn’t a legal marriage.” Chihiro answered. “Akio’s leaning pretty hard on that detail. What about this Miranda lady? Who the hell is she?”

I laughed.

“Miranda is my dad’s sister.” I replied. “She’s the black sheep of the Robinson family, never got along with us. Voted against Dad in every election and thought he was a moron from day one. I honestly thought the aliens got her. What’s she doing these days?”

My Aunt Miranda, as it turned out, had joined one of the armed factions fighting in a rapidly escalating civil war in the United States. There were still half a dozen people claiming to be President, and it was starting to look like America’s contribution to the war effort would be limited to just two Battlemaster gunships. Speaking of the war…

The Spaceborne Stormbreakers told their story next. We explained how we had survived the assault on Hiigara and escaped. By this point, Manako, Makara, Kailani, and several other Triple Alliance soldiers had joined us in the conference room and added their own accounts to the story. Queen Kendra was very interested to hear about where the Kakama had been before arriving at Partoga.

Then Jericho took over to talk us through the phenomenon of the Psionic Blackouts. No one on Earth had managed to figure out what was causing them, and Mira took notes while Jericho relayed what she had learned on her expedition to the Shroud. Eventually, it was revealed that the Vanian Conclave of Telepaths had brought an Ethereal to Earth, one that was on our side. This wasn’t as shocking as when Matthew Hawkins counted on his fingers and said:

“Hold up, you’re telling me that our side now controls four out of five Shroud-Beings? And that they’re all here on Earth!?”

Sophia Kuznetsova shuddered.

“So, we’re really gonna team up with nightmare monsters out of a Lovecraft book to fight the Beast?”

Jericho nodded grimly.

“Pretty much.” She admitted. “The Beast is far worse than any of us could have thought.”

Jericho then launched into a retelling of everything we had learned about Agamemnon and Astynome, as well as a detailed explanation of how the bio-mechanical virus worked, as well as our plan to inoculate everybody who was going to fight against it. At one point, Sophia retched and declared she was going to be sick. She stood up and left the conference room. A female Japanese soldier who was posted near the door offered to escort Sophia to the bathroom.

Meanwhile we carried on with our debriefing. Yutaka Yamamoto did his best to cover up his rank insignia with one hand the whole time, but Sophie eventually spilled the beans about him being reduced to Private. Mira filled us in about Akira’s disappearance, and how she seemed to be manipulating events from the shadows.

“If I had to guess,” Isis commented. “Akira was satisfied with operating in the open last year because she didn’t have to worry about the Partogans. Now that they’re here, she’s worried they’ll get in her way.”

“But that’s a good thing, right?” I said. “We want Akira to stop messing with our lives.”

“Aye, but do we, though?” Kathleen responded. “I mean, we owe a lot to her. We probably wouldn’t have overthrown the Elders without her.”

“What are the odd she’s responsible for the Elders being on our world in the first place?” Holly countered. “The Partogans said she’s tampered with all of Galactic history, not just us.”

Mira rapped her knuckles on the table.

“Whatever Akira’s new plan is, it cannot be good.” The former Chosen Assassin said. “She manipulated Duane Gardner into exploiting the goodwill of people who only wanted to serve Jericho. He led them to their deaths, knowing he could capitalize on their demise to seize the Composer of Strands.”

We all paused for a moment to think. Finally, Makara Ranginui spoke up.

“Where is Duane anyway? I thought he was supposed to be preparing to pilot the Trinity.

“I’m pretty sure he’s on-post.” Chihiro pulled out a small device. “I’ll call him.”

“Oh, my god!” Sarah gasped. “Is that a cell phone!?”

I let out a low whistle.

“Haven’t seen a working cell phone since the invasion.” I commented. “2015, or 2016. It’s definitely been a while.”

Chihiro smiled at me, dialed a number, and spoke into the receiver.

“Hey Gardner,” she said. “Where are you? We wanted to ask… hey, man! Slow down! What’s going on!?”

Chihiro’s voice became alarmed, and she spoke quickly, in a tone of voice that implied something horrible was about to happen.

“Guys, Duane says that Sophia just locked herself inside the air traffic control tower!”

Nearly two dozen chairs scraped loudly as everyone sprang to their feet!



Caption said:
The air traffic control tower at XCOM HQ was abandonded prior to the Kuznetsova Incident of August 6, 2036
It was the fastest I’ve ever run in my life. From XCOM Headquarters to the ATC tower is about seven hundred feet, most of it through the main terminals of Nagasaki Airport. We covered the distance in less than two minutes! The Earthbound Stormbreakers quickly outpaced those of us who had been in space for the past six months, running ahead of the main group. There were several XCOM soldiers attempting to set up a security cordon around the tower, but we muscled our way past them and pressed on.

The Nagasaki Airport tower is about six stories tall, and is attached to a building roughly half it’s height. To the north, south, and east was the waters of the Ariake Sea, which were frighteningly choppy today. A mixed force of UN Army, XCOM, and VDF soldiers had surrounded the control tower and were using binoculars and telescopes to scan the windows and roof of the main building.

“The structure was empty!” A VDF soldier was saying to his XCOM counterpart. “She just locked the doors from the inside and activated the old ADVENT security system!”

Kathleen cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted towards the building:

“Kuznetsova!! What’s goin’ on with ya!?”

While I paced around the outside of the building, looking for a way in, I asked:

“Did anyone notice anything odd? Behavior that didn’t add up, maybe?”

“What, you think Akira just bodysnatched Sophia!?” Isis asked.

I felt a lump catch in my throat. Honestly, that was a preferable alternative to the suspicion now lurking in the back of my mind. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the scarf Sophia had given me just hours before. Chihiro saw it and gasped!

“Ludmilla made that!” She said. “Why do you have it?”

“Gave it to me.” I replied, “And she seemed really happy to do it, too.”

All of the color left Chihiro’s face. To my surprise, the same thing happened to several of the soldiers around me. A sweeping realization made its way through the team as Chihiro said in a terrified whisper:

“She took off her shoes.”

And then it hit me. I didn’t need to look around the grass and pavement to realize Chihiro had used a Japanese metaphor. Next to me, the VDF soldier grabbed his radio and said into it:

“Base one, this is unit fifteen! Call an ambulance, we’ve got a jumper at the tower!”

Looking up frantically, I could have sworn I saw a brief flicker of movement in a third story window.

“We gotta get in there.”

“Yup. Follow me!”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Chihiro pass Himawari into the arms of Makara Ranginui. I had just one half of a second to realize what she was about to do before my wife sprang into a run, pounding the pavement hard as she careened towards a first-story window!

“Chi, wait!” I yelled. “Sophia turned on the security system, remember!?”

I pelted down the road after Chihiro, and a second set of footfalls behind me told me that someone was keeping pace with us. Covering her face with both hands, Chihiro launched herself towards the window and smashed through it shoulder-first! The instant the glass broke, a loud alarm siren began to wail! It was a noise I’d heard far too often during the war against ADVENT. It meant the building was about to be locked down! Cursing, I jumped through the shattered glass and crashed into the room on the other side! Someone hit me from behind and we both tumbled to the floor just as four bright red beams of light appeared in the smashed window! A small but secure force field had sealed the broken window so that no one else could enter or exit!

“Damnit!” Shouted Yutaka’s voice from the other side of the window. “Trojan, you make sure Antigone’s okay! We’ll work on cutting the power!”

I hadn’t heard anyone call Sophia by her callsign in almost six months, so it took me a second to get my thoughts straight. In that time, the two people I’d crashed into the building with got back to their feet.

“Icarus.” Said Chihiro.

“Dragon.” Said Sophie. “C’mon, Trojan! We’re on the clock!”

We didn’t really fan out to search the building. The three of us went straight for the stairs and started to climb. We figured that if Sophia was really planning to do what we were worried about, she wouldn’t try to hide. Furthermore, there were no weapon in the tower she could hurt herself with. Unless…

“Does Sophia have her weapons on her?” I asked.

“No!” Chihiro and Sophie answered.

“All XCOM weapons are locked up in the armory!” Sophie said. “I really doubt she broke in, Shen’s got a bunch of those androids guarding the place! That’s probably why she’s gonna j-”

“Don’t say that!” Chihiro cried!

Putting extra power in her steps, Chihiro rounded the corner and ran towards the elevator doors, intending to ride all the way up to the top of the tower. Jamming the button with her thumb, Chihiro tried to force her way inside of the elevator car as soon as it opened.

But there was already someone inside.

“Elevator’s too slow.” Said Akira Robinson. “Take the stairs!”

Sophie turned on the spot and doubled back for the stairwell, only stopping when she realized Chihiro and I were no longer following. Both of us stood rooted to the spot.

This wasn’t fair!

Of all the times for Akira to suddenly re-appear, this was the worst possible moment! And in the most infuriating of ways, as well! She was wearing the exact same uniform as the soldier who had offered to escort Sophia to the bathroom just half an hour ago! In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m pretty sure that it had been Akira the whole fucking time!

Akira raised her left arm and looked at a wristwatch.

“You’ve got six minutes and forty-five seconds before she decides to jump.” Akira told us. “You’d better get moving!”

“Can’t you do something!?” Chihiro pleaded. “Help us save her!”

“No.” Akira said in a foreboding way. “If I help rescue her, history takes a different path. If anyone other than you save her, the timeline gets messy; and if she dies, you’ll all be killed during the War in Heaven. It has to be you three. No one else can save Sophia.”

Chihiro was begging for Sophia’s life.

“Come on! Telepathy! Or just grab her! Anything!”

Akira shook her head and tapped her own temple with one finger.

“I’m blacked out, Mom. So are you. Can’t you feel it?”

I don’t know why, but that scared me more than anything else that could have been happening right now. Chihiro was now hyperventilating, fear threatening to overwhelm her!

“But… but… b-b-”

“You’ve got six minutes left!” Akira raised her voice! “She jumps at exactly 5:15pm! And I don’t know how long this Blackout’s gonna last, but I wouldn’t count on your powers coming back before then! GO!”

Chihiro whimpered once and then started dashing toward the staircase. I turned around to look at Akira.

“I swear to God, if you put her on that roof…”

“Does it really matter how she got up there!?” Akira cut me off. “She went up there to die, and her future best friends pulled her back from the brink. I’m just helping history onto the right path. Today, the price of a perfect future is to just nudge Sophia in the right direction. You’ve got five minutes left, by the way.”

She sounded so fucking smug when she said that. I was seething so hard that I could feel my heartbeat in my fingertips.

“Are you really blacked out?” I asked. “No Gift at all?”

“Blackout started about two minutes ago.” Akira replied while pushing one of the elevator buttons. “Why?”

And then I punched her in the face!

Once!

Twice!

Three times!

I wailed on Akira with both fists until she went down! She was caught by surprise so badly that she never had a chance to fight back! Coughing and spitting blood, Akira tried to scramble out of my way, but I kicked her in the ribcage, pressed my boot into her throat, and forced Akira to stay down!

“If I had a weapon, I would have killed you.” I growled. “Remember that.”

For good measure, I kicked Akira squarely in the head! She crumpled to the floor of the elevator and curled up in the fetal position, whimpering and groaning from the pain. Her blood smeared the soles of my boots and I nearly slipped! Once I was sure Akira wasn’t going to get up again. Then I turned to run up the stairs, following Sophie and Chihiro up the tower. From the bottom of the stairwell, I heard the sound of the alarm system being deactivated, and voices starting to echo along the ground floor.

“AKIRA’S HERE!” I shouted down the stairwell. “Third floor elevator landing! She’s down!”

Then I scrambled up the stairs.



It was really windy on the roof of the ATC building. Looking around the stairwell door frantically, I realized that there was nothing out here except for two large radio antennas. For a couple of seconds, I started to worry that I was somehow on the wrong roof, then I realized I could hear voices above me!

“It doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing matters.”

Sophia’s words came from somewhere above me to my left. Turning around, I looked up and saw, just for a brief moment, a flutter of long black hair billowing in the wind at the top of the control tower itself! A chest-high barrier had been built around the control room at the top of the tower, and Chihiro was standing close enough to it that her hair was catching the wind!

For a moment, I seriously considered using my Meld-enhanced legs to just jump the remaining 25 feet between myself and my comrades, but then I realized my sudden appearance might frighten Sophia into doing something irreversible. Instead, I stepped back into the stairwell and started making my way up to the top of the tower, taking care to make some noise as I ascended. Chihiro’s voice echoed down the stairwell

“Sophia, you matter! Not just to us, to the whole damn squad! That’s why we’re here, so we can get through this together!”

“Get through what!?” Sophia retorted. “You wanna pull me out of this nightmare and jump right into another one!? Aliens, sea monsters, now some kind of fucking space Cthulhu!? What the hell makes you think I want to live my life hopping from one nightmare to the next! I just want it to stop! I want out!”

“We’re not going to do that!” Sophie replied. I was about one floor below them now, the sounds of my blood-covered feet slipping on the floor “Sophia, you’re our friend! We just want to help you!”

I reached the door and forced my way into the control room. Sophia had pried open a door leading to the observation ledge outside, and was sitting on the concrete barrier, one leg dangled over the windward side, as though she were almost ready to take the plunge. Sophie and Chihiro were about six feet away. They had halted their advance to avoid scaring Sophia, and as I moved to join them, I raised my hands and moved slowly.

“I wish you could, but it’s too late for that.” Sophia’s voice was surprisingly clear through her headscarf. “There’s nothing, no one left for me here. I don’t wanna keep going. I’m hurting and I’m scared and I just want it to stop! I just want it to end!”

Right as I rounded the doorway and stepped out onto the balcony, Sophia swung her other leg over the barrier! She was now facing forward, towards the shimmering sea only a few yards away and about fifty feet straight down.

“Sophia!” I shouted, “Please! Don’t do this! There are so many of us who care about you!”

“Like who!?” Sophia spat at me. “Ludmilla’s buried in a ditch! She’s the only one who really cared. She’s the only one who ever understood me!”

Oh, damn. The thought coursed through me like lightning. Whatever Sophia was going through now, her twin sister was at the core of it!

Thankfully, Chihiro was quick on her feet.

“Sophia, I’ve lost a sibling. The Elders took Akeno from me, and I never even got to say goodbye. Please, please trust me! I know what kind of pain you’re going through.”

Sophia looked from Chihiro to me. I shook my head.

“I don’t even know where Jackie is buried.” I admitted. “That kind of pain is a nightmare all by itself. Please trust us, Sophia. We understand what you’re going through.”

Then Sophia turned to Sophie. Our white South African friend had, throughout this whole conversation, inched away from Chihiro and I and drawn inexorably closer to Sophia.

“I don’t have any siblings.” Sophie said. “But, uh, you’ll always be special to me.”

Sophia shifted on her perch, turning her head and body to view Sophie.

“I was locked in the Assassin’s prison for months!” Sophie went on quickly. “I honestly thought I was going to die in there, and that no one was coming to help us… but then you opened the door and let me out. Sophia, you came for me when I thought no one would. Let me return the favor.”

Sophia was now visibly hesitating. Her eyes darted back and forth between Sophie, Chihiro, and myself. Sophie took another half-step forward.

“I’m here for you.” Sophie said. “Whenever you need me.”

Sophia seemed to be frozen in time and space. After what felt like a painful eternity, she put both hands on the barrier, as though she was about to move herself… and then…

She slipped!

Sophia started to vanish below the line of the concrete barrier! Sophie, Chihiro and I all lunged forward! Sophie got there first, having crossed the shortest distance! She wrapped both of her arms around Sophia’s torso and arrested her fall! But it wasn’t for long! Sophia’s weight started to pull Sophie over the edge as well, who screamed loudly:

“I’VE GOT HER! PULL ME UP! PULL ME UP! PULL ME UP!”

Chihiro and I grabbed onto Sophie’s belt and started to tug!

“BLAKE!” Chihiro shouted. “I’ve got Icarus! Grab Antigone!”

I moved around to Sophie’s right side and leaned out over the edge, casting my head and arms into the abyss, and balancing myself on the same barrier Sophia had just fallen from! I braced myself by pressing my feet against the control tower windows behind me and managed to find Sophia’s arm before I locked eyes on her. That was when I realized Sophia’s headscarf had come off during the scuffle, and I looked straight into her uncovered face!

I’m very ashamed to admit this, but when I saw Sophia Kuznetsova’s face, I felt a powerful temptation to scream and let go.

There was a hole in Sophia’s right cheek, about an inch and a half below her right eye, and I could see though it and into her mouth! Fighting a powerful urge to vomit, I tightened my grip on Sophia’s arm and shouted:

“Pull!”

I felt Chihiro’s hand tug on my belt, and for a moment, Sophia and I both rose, but a loud scraping noise caught my attention!

“I’m slipping!” Sophie shrieked! “Someone grab me!”

“HELP HER!” I yelled over my shoulder to my wife.

Chihiro let go my belt entirely and seized Sophie! I looked back down at Sophia and added:

“Grab me, we’ll pull you up!”

Sophia was still hanging from Sophie’s arms, which were interlocked around her chest. Squirming and flailing, Sophia grabbed a handful of the fabric of my uniform, just behind my neck. With a powerful tug, Sophia managed to lift herself a few inches before my boots, still covered in Akira’s blood… slipped.

I lost my balance and fell forward!

Suddenly, my legs were higher than my head, the side of the building rose up to hit me in the face! I lost my grip on Sophia and all was wind and rushing and speed and tumbling!

I don’t remember hitting the ground.




END OF ACT THREE

 
Last edited:

HistoryDude

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That’s a cruel cliffhanger...

Also, didn’t Blake tell the Partogans that he wouldn’t stop Akira from defending herself?

The end approaches...

Also, Mira and Queen Kendra’s reunion scene was hilarious!
 

Macavity116

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That’s a cruel cliffhanger...
It's the last big cliffhanger of the series. The choice was between going big or going home. I chose to go big.


Also, didn’t Blake tell the Partogans that he wouldn’t stop Akira from defending herself?
He did, but learning that Akira is (at least partially) responsible for Sophia's attempted suicide caused him to go back on his word.

Also, Mira and Queen Kendra’s reunion scene was hilarious!
Took me days to figure out how that scene was going to go down. Glad to see the callback to Faith in Chaos went over well.

The end approaches...
Not counting War Stories, there are only 7 chapters left in the entire series.
 
War Stories #4: Green and Blue

Macavity116

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We're coming down to the wire here.

There are just a few loose side-stories to tie up, and then we're going to start preparing for the Grand Finale.

Time to kick this sucker off!
======

The Second Hyperspace War: Stories from the Front
#4: Green and Blue

Wednesday, August 6, 2036 – 9:30am
Sol Star System, United Nations of Earth, The Galactic Front Line


As the combined forces of the Triple Alliance armada and the UN Navy re-entered the Sol System and started traveling towards Earth, one of Humanity’s new gunships abruptly fell out of line. Engines sputtering and smoke trailing from a gash in her hull, the Israeli warship Crusader dropped away from the fleet and began to broadcast a distress message for all to hear.

Two more starships moved away from the fleet, a Human Gunship and a Partogan Carrier. The allied vessel reached the stricken spaceplane first, deploying a pair of Salvage Corvettes to latch onto the Crusader and bring her towards the Carrier’s hangar bay while the second Gunship moved to dock with the Carrier instead.

Inside of the Carrier’s hangar, a group of Partogans and Levakians received the battle-damaged Crusader with rescue equipment at the ready. Once the Salvage Corvettes placed the spaceplane firmly within the docking clamps, the Gunship lowered its boarding ramp and its seven crewmembers disembarked. The four men and three women found themselves being triaged by a group of Partogan medics while Levakian and Kelt engineers started to make repairs to their damaged ship.

One of the Israeli women, an Old World pilot named Ori Shoshan, was fascinated by the Partogan crew and kept trying to start up a conversation with them. Unfortunately, Ori wasn’t very well versed in the Galactic Common yet, so she had to ask one of her comrades for help. Ayala Rosen was a new addition to the crew, having joined the UN Navy just after the Fall of ADVENT. She had a curious complexion, pale skin combined with black hair. Her appearance would have caused alarm amongst certain members of both XCOM and the Triple Alliance.

With Ayala’s help, Ori was finally able to hold a conversation with one of the Partogan medics while he checked her for injuries. It went something like this:

“Excuse me,” Ori asked. “Where are we, and where are you going to take us? Also, who are you?”

“You’re aboard the Commonwealth Command Carrier Irirangi Ranginui.” The Partogan man answered in a patient tone. “Our commanding officer says we’re going to drop you off at the new Human Shipyard. And you can call me Toa Hahona. I’m part of the ship’s medical team.”

Ayala scratched her head in confusion.

“Something I always wanted to ask.” Ayala said. “Irirangi is a word in the Maori language on Earth. It means ‘spirit voice.’ Does it mean the same for you?”

Toa Hahona nodded.

“You think the same as us.” He replied. “Ever since your people visited the Galactic Council, and Jericho spoke to the Galaxy, my people have grown ever more convinced that Partogans and Humans share some kind of… deep connection.”

To prove his point, Toa Hahona used a handheld scanning device to analyze a sample of Ori’s blood. He turned the screen around for Ori and Ayala to see.

“Look here, your genetic material is so similar to ours that my computer insists you are Partogan. The evidence is undeniable, friend: There is a fraternal bond between Earth and Partoga.”

“Hell, it might be easier to say we’re the same species.” Ayala remarked.

“I’m more convinced of that with each passing day.” The Partogan replied.



The Crusader was too badly damaged to make the trip back to Earth on her own. It was decided that the ship would be dropped off at Port Armstrong, which had recently become Humanity’s first orbital shipyard. The Irirangi Ranginui performed a short Hyperspace Jump to reach it. Port Armstrong was located in a very high orbit above Jupiter, the largest planet in the Sol System, where its rings and extensive system of moons were being rapidly strip-mined by allied forces in a desperate bid to deprive the approaching enemy of anything useful.

By this point, a plan to transfer the Crusader to Port Armstrong had been worked out. A second Battlemaster-class Gunship was docked in the Irirangi Ranginui’s hangar: the German-built and operated FGS Königreich. She would tow the Crusader the final few thousand miles to the Shipyard before turning around and traveling to Earth by Wake-Jumping alongside her Partogan escort. As the twin spaceplanes prepared to take off, Ayala grabbed a small digital camera from its place beneath her pillow in the Crusader’s sleeping area and then approached her commanding officer.

Commander Solomon Erlich was an Israeli man of German descent, and was close personal friends with Pascal Steinmeyer, the commander of the Königreich. Therefore, he didn’t think twice when Ayala asked him for permission to return to Earth aboard the German spaceplane.

“That works out in our favor.” Solomon had said. “Transferring some weight from our ship to theirs will make us easier to tow, and besides; we’re going to be drydocked for a while, so you and a few other members of the crew may as well wait at home.”

So it was that Ayala, Ori, and two other members of the Crusader’s crew transferred over to the Königreich, pausing only to make sure the steel tow cable was correctly harnessed to the Crusader’s nose. Moving out at half-speed, the Königreich pulled her sistership out of the Irirangi Ranginui and made best speed towards Port Armstrong. The shipyard itself was located in a trojan orbit above Callisto, the outermost Jovian moon.

Once the Königreich closed to within a few dozen miles of the shipyard, the tow cable was released and the Crusader drifted into the waiting arms of a Human Salvage Corvette. Meanwhile, in the passenger area, Ayala became alarmed when she spotted the other spaceplane drift silently past her window. She craned her neck around to try and spot the shipyard out the window, but to no avail. She shuffled about in her seat for a moment, thinking fast. Next to her, Ori said:

“Hey, Ayala, are you alright? Your eyes just did something funny. Like, changed colors for a second.”

Ayala’s heart did a quick flutter. In her moment of rushed thoughts, she had partially dropped her Psionic disguise. Deciding to play it safe, Akira Robinson reached up and gently touched the side of Ori’s head with one hand. Her unwitting companion slumped into unconsciousness while a quick pulse of Psionic energy rippled through the whole ship!

Halfway through its turn away from the shipyard, the Königreich corrected its course and once again made to do a flyby of the shipyard. Somebody aboard the shipyard transmitted a radio message to the incoming spaceplane.

“Is there a reason for the close flyby, or are you just buzzing the tower?”

Up in the cockpit, Pascal Steinmeyer, the Königreich’s commander, sent a quick reply:

“We’re paying our respects to an old friend. Just tipping the wings.”

Pascal quickly matched his words to actions. As it sailed past the shipyard, the Königreich rocked left and right, dipping and raising her wingtips, a maneuver pilots often use to signal someone on the ground… or in this case, to give the ship’s targeting camera an unobstructed view of the Shipyard and its surroundings.

Bolted to the underside of the right wing, the camera pod made no noise as it captured images of what Akira had always suspected of being here, but never had concrete proof.

Releasing her telepathic control over the pilots, Akira allowed Pascal and his co-pilot to move the spaceplane to rejoin the Irirangi Ranginui for the Short Jump back to Earth. Akira, meanwhile, projected just enough Psionic energy around the fuselage to keep everybody except the pilots in a kind of trance. She grabbed a manilla folder and jammed it into the gap between her computer workstation and the one next door, obstructing the view of anyone who sought to peek around her shoulder. Of course, everybody around her was bewitched, but it never hurt to be careful.

Then, Akira started to scan the high-resolution images of Port Armstrong the Battle Camera had taken. She knew exactly what she was looking for. By this point, Akira had long since found out that Jericho handed over Mira’s index of future events to XCOM leadership. She knew that Laura Harper, John Bradford, and other AFUNE leaders were now fully forewarned about their many failed efforts in previous cycles. And now, a long last, Akira had found proof that AFUNE had taken some kind of action on this intel.

Hovering in empty space, caught in the shadow of Port Armstrong, Akira spotted a constellation of small points of light. She manipulated the camera controls slowly and patiently, zooming in on these points of light and bringing them into clarity. Finally, the points resolved themselves into shapes, and the computer activated its “Identify-Friend-Foe” system. It scanned the profiles of the objects and compared them against a database of all known designs before coming back with an answer:

Identified, 100% confidence: Battlemaster-class gunship (x15)

So, this was Harper’s big play, huh? The United Nations had doubled the size of their fleet in near total secrecy!

Akira checked the time on a nearby clock, then frowned. She would have to deal with this development another time. Right now, she needed to be somewhere else. Any minute now, Jericho, Mira, and the others would be leaving the Trinity and making their way to Earth for the big reunion, which meant Akira needed to keep an appointment with Sophia Kuznetsova.

Akira couldn’t help but feel confident. Once Sophia went up that tower, there would be only one variable left to change before the final battle. It was a big one, but she was confident in her plan. As long as Blake, Chihiro, Sophie, and Sophia all came down from the tower alive and unharmed… the Perfect Future was all but assured! For now, Akira decided to continue studying her new trove of intel. Making sure to keep the rest of the crew in their trance, Akira began to search the Königreich’s internal computer for any relevant data about the new ships. It didn’t take her long to find what she was looking for.

Perhaps Akira had given Harper, Jericho, and Mira too much credit. She found the crew manifests of these supposedly secret ships after the briefest of searches and started to peruse their contents. It took only five minutes to match each of the new ships to the person who had been handpicked by Secretary-General Harper to be its future commander:

  1. São Paulo (Brazil)
    • Commanding Officer: Ednaldo Marques
  2. ARA Heroína (Argentina)
    • Commanding Officer: Isidoro Moreno
  3. ARM Tenochtitlan (Mexico)
    • Commanding Officer: Samantha Reed
  4. MHCS Halifax (Canada)
    • Commanding Officer: Marinia Ross
  5. SAS Isandlwana (South Africa)
    • Commanding Officer: Simbra Mawakizi
  6. NNS Aradu (Nigeria)
    • Commanding Officer: Bosede Kuumba
  7. ENE Anwar El Sadat (Egypt)
    • Commanding Officer: Karmina Isra
  8. INS Vikramaditya (India)
    • Commanding Officer: Devmani Raghavendra
  9. Juan Carlos I (Spain)
    • Commanding Officer: Lazarus Dela Cruz
  10. Liaoning (China)
    • Commanding Officer: Shaojie Zhang
  11. ROKS Sejong the Great (Korea)
    • Commanding Officer: Lee Chong-Il
  12. FS Hermione (France)
    • Commanding Officer: Odette Fournier
  13. ROKS Dokdo (Korea)
    • Commanding Officer: Song Soo
  14. USS Niagara (United States)
    • Commanding Officer: Blake Robinson
  15. HMNZS Moana Ranginui (New Zealand)
    • Commanding Officer: Mira Mihaka
When Akira saw the last five ships on the list, and the names of their future commanders, her heart missed a beat.

“Jericho…” she breathed. “You clever bitch.”

Okay… now there were two variables that needed to be changed.


 
Last edited:

HistoryDude

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Well, we know where Akira’s been now...

Wait, is Jericho deliberately splitting up the Stormbreakers!?

Well, Sophia jumped last chapter, right? And pulled Blake with her? Does that screw up Akira’s plan?

How did nobody recognize Akira? She’s a galactic war criminal - and her ship got picked up by Partogans.