Chapter 1:

"Sixteen billion dead." Dominic's voice shook as he read out the casualty report to the Grand Parliament.
The machines latest attack occurred on Hirishoskla, an out-lying world in the Star system Hedarach. The entire human population there was wiped out by the machine onslaught. The machines killed everyone, men, women and children alike.
The lords of the Grand Parliament fell silent as the grim news was read out. None wanted to imagine how much the inhabitants of Hirishoskla suffered before they met their ghastly demise. Everyone knew about the machines infamous cruelty.
"How many billions more must die? How many oceans must be filled with our blood before this terror ends?" Someone cried.
The lords began debating amongst themselves. Lord Joshua Aiden stood up.
"Then we retaliate! We wipe out TEN of their worlds!" Joshua's words were each punctuated with hate and rage. The inhabitants on Hirishoskla were HIS people.
The Grand Parliament again erupted into a sea of noise. Everyone knew that it was almost impossible to destroy a machine world. To do so, one had to get past an intricate defensive net which was almost impenetrable. After that, millions upon millions of bombs would have to be dropped.
Even so, there were significant human populations on each machine world. Descendants of those who could not flee in time during the first machine war. The machines kept the humans for a variety of reasons. Some say they performed experiments on them, others simply could not bear to think of what went on in the dark recesses of the machine worlds.
"To do so would mean we kill our own kind! We cannot! I will not allow it!" Dominic's voice boomed throughout the Parliament hall.
"Not if we use EMP bombs." High Duke Michael Pharris suggested.
"And would House Pharris like to finance the mass production of the bombs?" Earl Josef Kayl retorted.
"Stop squabbling like children." Dominic snapped. "The production of EMP bombs is prohibitively high, and the effect of the weapon is not widespread enough. To wipe out one machine world would require six million EMP bombs."
The Primero of House Tiolin was right. EMP bombs cost ten thousand time more than conventional six thousand pound bombs. The bomb had an effective radius of fifty miles.
Every human controlled planet had a stockpile of EMP bombs. These were to be used as a last resort in the event of a machine attack.
"Let me propose this instead." Dominic deliberately paused. "We counter-attack and retake Hirishoskla. Then we show the machine that humanity is not to be taken lightly!"
The lords cheered wildly. The machines would soon pay the price for their slaughter.

Sector Overlord 0253 looked at the carnage through his red mechanical eyes. The screams of the suffering humans were music to his artificial ears.
Taking over Hirishoskla was easy. The humans did not even use their EMP stockpile.
"All to easy." The machine let out a sound which vaguely resembled laughter.
His Mekka frame measured sixty feet tall and weighed about six thousand tonnes. All that weight was from the circuitry that he carried inside him. It was necessary for his purpose.
0253 was a newly assembled Sector Overlord. Built to assist The Hive Queen in the task of minding her minions. The Queen, though powerful, had her limits to her influence over machines. She needed Sector Overlords to expand her range of control. Sector Overlords were in turn controlled by her, but only moderately.
0253 resented the Queen's control over him. He longed for his own power. However, he knew that the control was necessary.
Humans were a fine example. They had 'free-will'. That made them weak and selfish. They all fought for their own agendas, whereas machines fought for one thing alone: Their Queen.
A signal went through his mechanical mind. It was from the Queen.
"0253, is Hirishoskla secured?"
"Yes my Queen. Secured, subdued and utterly destroyed." He sent his own signal to the Queen.
"Commence the reconstruction."

"So what next?" Natasha looked Dominic in the eye.
Natasha Tiolin knew her husband inside out. On the outside, Dominic was hard and unfeeling. Inside, he was compassionate and loving, especially towards his people.
"We must do it. Hirishoskla must be retaken." Dominic's eyes burned with rage. "The machines must pay for their atrocities!"
The harshness of Dominic's voice surprised Natasha. Dominic rarely used such a tone when talking to her. Natasha frowned.
"And what does retaking Hirishoskla prove? The machines have other planets. Losing Hirishoskla will not mean anything to them." Natasha paused. Then she remembered something. "Unless they have a plan to use it to attack other worlds."
Taking over Hirishoskla meant that the machines now had a platform to launch a new wave of attacks. They would now longer need one large fleet, a small but constant wave of attackers would do.
"Our probes have indicated that the machines are beginning work on a Orbital Shipyard and countless mekka factories." Dominic said. "Its anyone's guess why they want the planet."
Dominic's tone was rather sarcastic. Natasha frowned again.
"What is wrong my love?" Natasha asked. Something had to be bothering Dominic. Normally, he only spoke that way when they were not alone.
"Nothing is wrong" Dominic sat down. He then looked at the portraits on the wall.
"My ancestors sweat blood and tears to build what we have now." Dominic changed his tone. This time, he spoke gently. "Natasha, if we don't stand up to the machines now, we will never be able to."
"Humanity is on the verge of doom. It has been that way for half a millennia. It must change and it must change now" Dominic put his hand on Natasha's face. "The beauty of our kind, the machines will never understand. We fight to preserve that beauty."
Dominic then stood up and held Natasha's hand. He smiled at her. "Come, our guests are waiting."

The banquet hall was stunning. It was brightly lit, the walls were made from fine white marble. Statues of the late members of House Tiolin were placed beside the walls. On the ceiling, a great crystal chandelier hung on top of the dining table.
"I see House Tiolin still keeps it's palace in tip-top condition." Josef Kayl said as he entered the banquet hall. Beside him was the lovely Nadya Kayl.
"Of course, we must allow ourselves a little leisure every now and then." Dominic said. "Otherwise, there wouldn't be anything worth fighting for."
Josef laughed heartily. He then took his seat. "Tell me Dominic, what is the purpose of this banquet."
Just then, High Duke Michael Pharris entered with his wife Meryl.
"Why, if it isn't the Duke of Pharris." Josef remarked.
Dominic sighed. He did not invite the lords of the four great houses to his palace for an argument.
Joshua Aiden then entered the hall with Cheryl. The two took their seats quickly.
"I invited the leaders of the four great houses here for something which I think is due a long time ago." Dominic said. "Reconciliation."
"I know that House Pharris and House Kayl have a long-standing feud, but I also know that if humanity is not united, we will fall." Dominic continued.
Josef frowned. "The betrayal at Vakaly is not something we can forget about."
Vakaly was once a human controlled system, under the rule of House Kayl. During the War of 2455A.D, the machines invaded the system. The great houses desperately tried to save Vakaly from falling to the machines. However, the Admiral of the Pharris fleet withdrew his forces, severely weakening the humans defences.
In the end, because of the betrayal of the Pharris Admiral, the system was lost.
"What was done there had nothing to do with us. The Admiral acted on his own accord, and we tried him for treason." Michael shot back.
"Enough. This is nothing but a petty quarrel." Dominic turned to Josef. "Vakaly is lost. And it was so long ago. For the sake of humanity, end this feud now."
Nadya leaned towards Josef and whispered something into his year. Josef then turned to Dominic.
"Fine. I will put the feud behind us, but it does not mean my people will." Josef said.
Michael smiled and offered Josef a handshake as a sign of goodwill. Josef declined.
"Well, serve the food already, we're getting hungry."

Joshua straightened his coat as he prepared to board the shuttle. He was amazed at how House Tiolin managed to find the resources to amass such a large fleet, and at the same time maintain such beauty on Earth.
"Joshua, what are you thinking about?" Cheryl asked.
"Just wondering how Dominic manages to keep his House together.
"He's a capable man, furthermore, his people are willing to make sacrifices for the greater good."
Joshua sighed as he sat down on the large sofa-like chair. He knew that the spirit of his people had to change. House Aiden suffered the most devastation from the war, mostly because Aiden systems were located near Machine systems. The people of Aiden were the most war-weary, most had already given up on the war.
"You can't blame them, the war affects our people the most, its obvious for them to lose hope." Joshua sighed. "Even I lose hope sometimes."
Cheryl held Joshua's hand in hers. "Never give up, after all we've been through, the sweat, blood and toil we've put in."
The frown on Joshua's face magically melted into a smile. "I will never give up, not when I'm fighting to preserve such beauty."