Twelfth Age of the reign of the Great Mistress, Great Hall of the Dark Ones, Supreme Command Spire, Kalonardra, exact coordinates unknown
Naira Seville, the self-proclaimed Queen of the Night, Mistress of Destruction, ruler of the Kalon Swarm, reclined atop her throne, residing for the most part, in darkness, her throne constructed from the dismembered limbs and skeletons of those who have fallen before the might of her warriors, the still slick surfaces glistened in the flickering light of hanging flame torches. Her clawed hands clasped together in delight as her loyalest followers updated her on their progress of the Great Cleansing.
Her six principal Swarm Masters stood before her with their accompanying Lysarian guards. Lysarian's, great hulking brutes of muscle and spines, but possessing the comparable intelligence of a stump. To make up for their lack of judgement they possessed zealot-like genetically imprinted loyalty to their Masters over all others. They had their bodies augmented to give them unrivalled strength, and a series of spikes running from the tops of their shoulders to the tips of their short, serrated tails. The Swarm Masters themselves were massive seven-foot creatures, with great heads lined with rows of dark razor-sharp teeth, their backs and shoulders covered in rows of sinister-looking spikes from their neck to their tail. Situated on their shoulders was a set of smaller arms, which at their tip were scythe-like claws. Their eyes were dark, heavyset, and blood red.
"My Queen, the Lythar are on the run, my minions have wrought great destruction upon the Wretched Ones; their outer colonies lie in flaming ruin, and their fleet in disarray. I must ask why the Greater Swarm has been recalled to the Homeworld," remarked the largest and oldest of the Swarm Masters, the fact that he referred to the hereditary enemy of the Swarm by name, clearly showed his frustration.
"The reason is simple, My Dear KriTora, it is because I have decreed it, which should be enough reason for you. I have discovered something rather alarming within our space. A small primitive craft invaded our domain, it did not stand long and it was destroyed; it is not the ship that concerned me, but what it carried. Now, my children, tell me what you see?] Naira replied before raising a clawed hand as a twisted series of tentacles descended from the recesses of the high vaulted ceiling. They carried a large piece of dark grey hull armour, with an emblem laser etched on one side, and painted in white. The tentacles dropped the hull plating on the spongy ground and returned to the recesses.
The Swarm Masters walked around the large hull fragment telepathically conferring between themselves before they assumed their original positions at the foot of their Queen's throne.
[It is a hull fragment from a small vessel, non-Lythar in origin; it is also a compound non-indigenous to our area of domain.] Swarm Master LoqToza offered as he ran a scraping of the material around in his claws, sniffing it tentatively.
[It bears markings, arboreal-type planetoid surrounded by fifteen additional stellar objects; this like the metalloid is not one that we have encountered before. Mistress, what does it mean?] Swarm Master JakMoraz suggested, shaking his head slowly.
KriTora shook his head as if dismissing something before turning his back on the rest of the Swarm Masters; turning to look directly at his ruler, [My Queen, were any of the craft's inhabitants taken alive?] he queried before grabbing a small unidentified creature from a pouch on his waist and devouring it whole, purposely making loud crunching noises.
[As a whole, it would seem that the species is weak and insignificant; however, those we captured proved entertaining.] Naira replied, looking over her shoulder to a section of wall that fell away forming a doorway; in its place stood a pair of Lysarian Guards. Once the doorway had completely formed they entered the Great Hall, by the time they had reached the central dais, the wall had reformed.
The brutish forms of two towering sentinels quickly filled this opening, pushing a small creature into the Great Hall before them. Between the two stood a pitiful-looking creature, its small weak pink body appeared comical when put beside its demonic handlers. At one point prior to its capture, this creature wore a grey jumpsuit, but was nothing but a mass of shredded strips of fabric.
The creature tried to escape but was felled due to a sharp snap of the heavy chains attached to its puny neck.
Its presence caused many of the Swarm Masters to shake their heads disbelievingly; how could something so pitifully small and physically inferior pose the great Kalon Swarm a threat?
"Please, this is all unnecessary. I assure you, I am Captain Nathaniel Goldstrom of the United Terran Alliance; we are here on a mission of peace, we're explorers. We only seek peaceful coexistence," the form called out, trying to free itself from the grasp of its handlers, but failing miserably.
[It is a physically inferior species, lacking any natural-forming defensive systems worth mentioning other than a rudimentary telepathic ability. Collectively they call themselves Humanity. They do appear to have one thing going for them; they refuse to die.] Naira remarked as the Lysarian's paraded the human captain around as if he was a show dog.
[My Queen, why bring this…this thing into our presence? This abomination is an insult to the greatness of those warriors whose cranial crowns adorn the walls of this Great Hall,] KriTora scoffed as the other Swarm Masters inspected the human.
[Because, KriTora, this is the future of our enemy, not the Lythar, and its pitiful Imperium. They may be weak now but if left unchecked, they could pose a greater threat than the Wretched Ones.] Naira stated, rising from her throne to walk among her War Council. [Need I remind you, KriTora, that this creature is no taller than I, and you all bow before me.] At 5'9" the seven-foot, Swarm Masters towered over her, but they were dwarfed by her powerful presence.
[My Queen, were we able to ascertain the location of their Homeworld?] LoqToza enquired, inspecting the captive as if he was a piece of livestock.
[We were, however, it took some 'convincing', it would seem that this species' latent telepathic ability is difficult to dominate.] Naira replied before projecting the collective memories of the human crew to the grouped Swarm Masters.
0854 Hours, May 22, 2237 [Alliance Military Calendar]
UTEC Explorer, Ophelia, in orbit Polaris Resupply and Command Station, Hartonis Prime, Pegasi Sector.
"Captain, we keep losing assets in the Singari Expanse. Now we are not sure if it might be because of some natural-forming phenomena or those rumours of pirates hiding in the nebulas are true. Either way, I want the Ophelia to find out," the holographic representation of Admiral George Yeager ordered from a small monitor near the captain's chair, as the small explorer left the confines of the Polaris Resupply and Command Station. The station was in orbit of the remote Tridium Mining colony of Hartonis Prime, one of the few loyal colonies this far from the Core Territories on the frontier.
"I will do what I can to find out what has happened, but if we can't enter the Expanse or find ourselves over our head?" Captain Nathaniel Goldstrom asked, seated in his small command chair, as his Command Staff went about their duties.
"If after the five days you're scheduled to be out of port that you still cannot find a way in or locate any pirate strongholds, return to base, and we'll coordinate a proper course of action."
"Captain, we are clear of the station's gravity well, and we've been cleared to enter the Pulse Stream and commence core start-up," Pilot First Class Charles Burgundy reported from the front console.
"Admiral, we'll be in touch in a week, whether we find out what's happening. Keep a candle in the window for us. Ophelia out," Nathaniel replied before swivelling his chair to face the front screen. "Helm, engage Pulse Generators, take us to the Singari Expanse."
"Aye, sir, entering the Pulse Stream," Burgundy replied, inputting the commands on his console.
The small Atlantis Class Explorer manoeuvred away from the large orbital military complex and activated its small Pulse Thrusters. Too small and underpowered to use the Rift Drive used by larger craft, the Atlantis class used pulses of antimatter to propel it through space known as the Pulse Drive. While an effective and safe method of exploration compared to the Rift Drive that the larger fleet vessels possessed, it was by no means as fast or efficient, as ships utilizing it never actually entered subspace, nor could the engines be used on craft over a certain weight, restricting their usefulness. Aside from Atlantis explorers and a myriad of probes, Pulse Drives were primarily used by independent and government owned cargo freighters and larger personal yachts travelling between nearby systems.
The small craft's interior was filled to capacity with all manner of equipment and sensors. Due to its size, it cramped corridors and low clearances made this difficult; the forty-four members of the crew did not complain; the Atlantis Explorers had been at the forefront of exploration along with their companion Basilisk Class Cruisers since before the foundation of the Alliance.
Captain Goldstrom leant back into his chair as his Command Crew went about their business. His Helm Officer made minuscule course corrections when the Ophelia momentarily veered off its programmed course; his astroscientific/executive officer was hunched over her console studying every single piece of information the ship's powerful sensor array was acquiring. His communications and psionic operations- intelligence officers were going over the records received from now-lost probes and freighters and his Gunnery Control Officer stood to the side of the bridge and coordinated with his staff in the Armoury, preparing the ship's defensive armament.
"Charles, thanks for coming out with us. I know you're technically a civilian now, but we won't be out here long and you'll be back to married life, speaking of which, you haven't said much, how is your new life treating you?" Nathaniel queried as his Helm Officer sat upright after programming another course correction.
"Well, sir, Caroline's happy that my terms of service have been met, she's really excited about returning to Sirius Major," his Helm Officer replied, turning his chair around to face the rest of the bridge.
"Well, you've done us one hell of a service, you've earned it," Nathaniel replied, his Astroscientific Officer turning her chair also.
"Sir, we have an object coming up on our scopes. Not sure what it is, but it could be one of our missing probe," she reported, bringing up the object on the main viewer.
"Well that was quicker than I expected. Take us out of the Stream, Mr Burgundy," Nathaniel ordered, leaning on one armrest, pushing his thoughts out of his mind.
The object was roughly twelve metres in length with long wings at each side ending in a pair of sharp hooks; under each wing was a pod of unidentified origin, its front ending in a great gaping maw. It appeared to be damaged, as it was leaking a blue fluid from under one wing. It had a series of running lights that ran the length of its organic looking hull, which were, for the most part, non-functional.
The space in front of the Ophelia split in two as the small craft exited the Pulse Stream, small wisps of matter and energy flaring behind the ship before the opening closed in on itself.
"Analysis, Ms Havilland," Nathaniel ordered, leaning forward as the ship grew closer. "Helm full stop, commence generator recharge cycle."
"I take back my comment about it being ours; I'm reading biological and metallic components grafted onto each other into one form. I'm not picking up any engines or weapons in the conventional sense. Or definite crew life signs for that matter, but then the object itself is coming up as one big life form," Commander Sarah Havilland reported, pressing buttons on her console bringing up her readings onto the main viewer. Once there she highlighted the different sections of the alien craft as best she could against the human definition of what a ship was.
"Mr Sovora, attempt communication with the alien craft," Nathaniel ordered, standing and walking closer to the screen to get a closer look at the unknown craft. "What the hell are you, my little friend?"
"Aye, sir," Ensign Mikhail Sovora replied, inputting commands into his console. "This is the UTEC Explorer Ophelia to unknown vessel. Please identify yourself. Do you require assistance?" he enquired, pressing his hand against the receiver earpiece.
After a few minutes Mikhail turned to his captain. "Sir, I'm getting nothing from them, not even background chatter. I've never heard anything so quiet," he reported.
"Mr Burgundy, bring us alongside; Mikhail, continue trying to raise them," Nathaniel ordered before turning to his Gunnery Officer. "Steve, I want a firing solution ready should we require it. Prep the Ares Cannon for firing, but do it quietly, we have no idea the level of their scanning capabilities."
"Understood, sir, I'll get onto it," reported the Chief Gunnery Control Officer before relaying the information to the Armoury.
"Expecting something, sir?" Sarah Havilland asked, turning her chair to face the captain.
"I'm hoping to be proved wrong XO, but until we can determine their stance we can only prepare for the worst," Nathaniel replied as the Ophelia approached the alien craft, which hadn't appeared to acknowledge the larger craft's presence.
"Range reading 100 metres," Burgundy reported, "Still reading no reaction from them."
"Captain, it could be that they are unable to respond," Mikhail suggested, running through various communications bands as the ship came to a stop.
Sarah looked up from her console, "Captain I am detecting an internal hull structure over there, while my instruments are having difficulty scanning inside the hull, it does appear to have a breathable atmosphere in there."
Nathaniel turned from the main viewer and looked directly over to over to his Gunnery Officer, "Prepare a boarding party, I want to know what's over there," he ordered, approaching the gunfire control station.
"Aye, sir. Bridge to the Armoury, prepare Marine Team 7 to board the alien craft," Lieutenant Colonel Steven Alchin relayed to his subordinates.
Suddenly the alien craft appeared to notice the Ophelia; its front pair of running lights flashed a venomous red before it attempted to assume a defensive pose.
"Captain, we've got movement with the other ship, I don't know what it is, but I think we pissed it off," Sarah reported as the craft started to move its wings as if to keep it aloft in space.
"Mr Burgundy, back us up. A conflict is the last thing we're looking for," Nathaniel ordered, leaping over the guardrail that separated the front of the Bridge and his Command Chair before bringing up his own console.
"Aye, sir," Charles replied, entering the commands, as the pods on the alien craft started to glow.
"Captain, I'm detecting a power build-up in the alien craft but I'm not able to determine its purpose," Sarah reported, studying the readings on her console.
"Mikhail, tell them our intent. Charles, bring us to a defensive position. Take us to Level Two Battle Stations," Nathaniel ordered, resting his chin on an open palm.
With his call of increased preparedness, all the consoles on the Bridge, and those throughout the ship, pulsed orange, informing the crew of the possibility of hostile or hazardous action. All over the ship, personnel reported to battle stations, power was diverted from sensors to the ship's weapons systems and engines and the ship's marine contingent reported to the armoury to be equipped in case the Ophelia was boarded or they were required to perform boarding actions themselves.
After a few seconds, the pods on the craft powered down and returned to their previous state.
"I think we convinced them we don't want a fight," Charles commented, seconds before a pair of green bolts of energy rocketed away from the craft's underwing pods.
"Incoming energy discharge, impact in 5," Sarah reported before grabbing hold of the handrail attached to the bottom of her station.
"Brace for impact. Mikhail: inform Polaris Station; tell them what has happened. Armoury, prepare three rounds across their bow, just a little warning shot to show that we aren't to be messed with," Nathaniel ordered before the green bolts struck the Ophelia amidships, causing the entire ship to shake, followed by another volley, then another.
"Scratch that order Armoury, Steve, I want you to target that damaged pod. Prepare three rounds, full charge, I want an updated firing solution immediately," Nathaniel barked while gripping the arms of his chair. The force of the impacts threw about those on the Bridge unlucky enough to not have a firm handhold.
"Damage to decks seven, eight and ten, section fifteen through twenty, minor casualties," Mikhail reported.
"Firing the Ares Cannon, sir," Steve reported pressing a firing button on the guardrail console in front of him.
The Ophelia's main gun, the Ares Cannon, was a magnetically accelerated gauss weapon, fired three large 10-gallon drum-sized projectiles towards the alien craft's damaged weapon pod at an equivalent speed of Mach 12. Two of the three rounds struck home on the outer covering, breaking it open; the third missed and struck the seam attaching the wing to the body, and severing it.
The craft fired off a round from its one remaining weapon pod before turning and attempting to flee, leaving a long trail of globular viscous fluid.
"Cease fire; get repair teams to damaged sections. Mr Burgundy: plot a pursuit course, but let's keep our distance. Bring that wing aboard, I want it studied. Sarah, what have we got on long-range sensors, what's in front of us?" Nathaniel queried before discovering that somehow, during the skirmish, he had been cut along the side of his face.
"The alien craft appears to be heading towards a binary star system deeper in the Expanse, five planets orbiting the larger of the two stars. There is an debris cloud at the terminus of the planetary belt. I'm picking up Keblonite, and a number of radioactive heavy metals I can't identify without close up intensive analysis. It would, however, be enough to mask our presence, if you're planning on continuing to follow it," Sarah replied, bringing up the requested information and displaying it on one of the many screens that comprised the main viewer.
"The question remains, are there any more of these things where we're headed?" Nathaniel asked, cleaning his wound with his jacket sleeve.
"I've tied the aliens' bio-signature into the sensors, sir. There appears to be a group of them, numbering about a hundred, maybe more, I couldn't tell you for certain since we know nothing of this creature. However, finding this less than a week from the frontier is more than alarming," Sarah replied before the inter-ship intercom beeped.
"Hangar to Command Deck, Commander, the salvagers have left the hanger, you'll have your wing in 10 minutes."
Sarah stood, "Sir, I'll be in the Lab."
"Understood. Mikhail, have we received a response from Polaris?" Nathaniel asked as his aide handed him a cup of coffee.
"Yes, sir, we are to continue with our orders, but we are also to discover what exactly that thing was," Mikhail replied, pressing his hand to the earpiece.
"So much for that early discharge," Charles commented to himself, before monitoring the ship's course.
"You'll get it, or I'll personally transport you to Sagras," Nathaniel remarked before leaning back in his chair. "Do we have enough in the tanks for one more jump?"
"Aye, sir, we have enough power to get us to the planetary system, but that will be about it," Charles replied, updating the course into the ship's main computer.
"Then by all means, you're not a civilian yet. Once that wing is aboard get us underway, plot an overtake course, I want to be there before it does. Bring us as close to the debris cloud as you can, and give us enough speed to drift into it," Nathaniel ordered before downing the remnants of his coffee, and making a disgusted face, after discovering that it had gone cold.
The Ophelia hung motionless as four small salvage craft left her ventral hanger bay and sped towards the wing that was slowly rotating, propelled by the fluid leaking from its nearly destroyed weapons pod.
"Okay, Beta Four, grab the extreme edge. Beta Three, Heath, assist him. Raoul, latch on near the weapons pod, set your radiation shields to maximum. I'll guide you guys in," Beta One ordered as he carefully manipulated the controls of his small salvage craft, before thumbing his own radiation shields to maximum. How in the hell are we going to get this bloody thing into the hold? He thought as small pieces of debris ricocheted against the massive transparent Tridium composite cockpit dome, causing small dents to form in the reinforced covering that took up the entire front of the fragile craft.
"Hey, boss, how in the hell is this hunk-o-junk gonna get inna the hold, it's gotta be at least a mile long," Raoul asked as the two claws attached to the underside of his craft latched onto the alien's wing.
"You just take care of moving it, Raoul, let me worry about how it's going to fit."
"Warrant Officer, I've got a bad feeling about this, the claws are cutting right through this thing," Petty Officer Heath Freeman remarked as the claws penetrated the spongy substance that the wing was made of, causing it to seep a blue liquid,
"You've always got a bad feeling about everything," one of the others muttered.
"Good lord, sir, the wing, it's…it's bleeding!"
"Say again, Petty Officer, you say the wing is 'bleeding'?" Beta 1 queried as his salvagers slowly moved the wing underneath the Ophelia that was drifting towards them.
"Affirmative, sir, the wing is bleeding; blue fluid is seeping from where we punctured the surface. What should we do? Sir?"
Beta one sat there stunned. How can something live out here in no atmosphere? "Yes…oh of course, get that thing to the cargo hold. Let's get the hell out of here, this is starting to freak me out," he ordered before tapping his controls.
Sarah buzzed around the science lab like an agitated bee, checking every instrument that she had at her disposal. While her subordinates scrutinized over the shreds of information the ship had recovered of the alien ship and the following brief engagement it had.
"John, tell me what you've found. I'm a little sceptical about Warrant Officer Gerges' comment that this thing was alive. Hell, I'm sceptical about my own sensor data," Sarah ordered as she remotely dissected the alien wing, which now took up the entirety of the Ophelia's cargo hold, via giant robotic arms. Due to the unknown nature of the alien craft, the hold was sealed off from the rest of the ship.
"I don't know what to say, ma'am, Warrant Officer Gerges' assessment was close, but not entirely accurate. Analysis of the liquid contains hemolymph as a major component, as well as a hydrocarbon retardant compound I have never seen before, in a sense, this is blood, but for what we know it could just be a coolant compound. That, coupled with your early scans, does support the fact that it was, for the most part, alive," John replied, as the console he was working on ran checks on a vial of the alien liquid.
"I'm still not convinced by what I've found, but even if we can't perceive it possible, it doesn't mean that it's not. Relay what we've discovered to the Science Council, maybe they can figure out what the hell it is," Sarah ordered as the intercom beeped. "Science Lab here."
"Sarah, we've reached the planetary system. Report to the bridge," Nathaniel ordered.
"Understood, sir, I'm on my way," Sarah replied before turning to her subordinates. "Keep monitoring the alien craft until it leaves range, transmit all tactical data to the Armoury, everything else to the Science Council," Sarah ordered before leaving the lab.
The Ophelia exited the Pulse Stream just outside the fringes of the Planetary Belt. At the speed they were travelling, if their presence had registered on alien sensors, it wouldn't have made any difference as seconds later the Ophelia had entered the safety of the Keblonite and radioactive fields within the debris cloud. The cloud itself appeared to consist mostly of destroyed vessels and hull fragments, most were of an alien bronze or obsidian colour, but UTEC warship-grey hull fragments also dotted the field.
"Engine cores are cold, sir, we're drifting; it will be at least 25 minutes before we can jump again," Charles reported, facing the rest of the bridge. Until the Pulse Generators recharged from ever-present background radiation, there was nothing he could do. Outside using the ship's chemical rockets to make minor changes to their position when the errant Keblonite deposit or some of the larger hull fragments in the field strayed too close to the ship.
"Understood, I don't think we're going anywhere anytime soon anyway. Those aliens we picked up before arriving would pose a problem," Nathaniel commented before rising and walking around the bridge to regain circulation while under the pretence of inspecting the bridge systems. "Cut all external power, I want us to have the appearance as just another hulk. Deploy the Sensor Drones; send them to the periphery of the cloud."
"Aye, sir. Drones away," Sarah reported from her console. "Drones will reach the extreme edge of the field in 36 seconds."
From an underside launch tube, high-speed baseball-sized Sensor Drones sped towards the edge and out of the interference of the radioactive materials. While the Keblonite, a substance used in UTEC power cores, generated enough electromagnetic radiation to cancel out the magnetic resonance signature created by the ship herself, it also flooded the surrounding space with Cherenkov radiation rendering the ships sensor suite useless, while the Tridium/Titanium/Uredinium Composite Hull Plating was dense enough to protect the crew from the radiation. The Sensor Drones, utilising point-to-point direct communication, acted as the eyes and ears of the Ophelia as she hid in the nebula.
"Drones at the limit of the debris field, sir, receiving telemetry now," Sarah reported before displaying the images the Drones transmitted back to the Ophelia.
"I don't like all this hiding; we know these things are weak at the wings. I propose we gather as much data as we can about these little bastards and then blast the hell out of them," Steve commented. The seasoned marine tended to keep his thoughts to himself; the mere notion that he was voicing his opinion was enough to cause the Command Crew to pay attention.
"Need I remind you, Major that we have been ordered to observe the aliens, not slaughter them en-masse. Now cool your jets before you say something you can be tried for," the softly spoken Psi-Ops Officer, Sub-Lieutenant Alexandra Serapova commented, standing in the corner of the bridge. Her words and her telepathic presence quickly silenced the Marine.
"Still wishing you were home? And miss all this?" Mikhail commented sarcastically to Charles who glowered sullenly as his duties weren't necessary.
Charles laughed hollowly before turning around, "What in God's name is that?"
"I don't think any of us could have said it any better, Mr Burgundy," Nathaniel remarked dryly, leaning against the bulkhead.
The system was filled with hundreds of the small alien craft, flying in groups amongst the rings of the third planet or in the gassy mass that was the second giant, chasing one another, almost playing games. Nevertheless, these small ships weren't what concerned the Command Crew.
A series of larger ships appeared, each one easily hundreds of metres in length and with massive, almost tusk-like appendages on either side of cavernous gaping jaws which were lined with rows of three metre-long teeth. While the smaller craft had one pair of wings, these larger monstrosities possessed two, which counter-beat each other. Under the first pair of wings, two massive weapon pods nearly as long as the smaller craft resided. Above the opening was a pair of sinister red running lights and a series spikes along the ships' dorsal plane. These craft travelled alone throughout the system at whim; if any of the smaller craft got in their way, they were simply devoured.
"Transmit this to Polaris Command; tag this as a Priority Alpha Threat. Charles, how long until the Generators are fully charged?" Nathaniel enquired. He knew if it came to engaging these aliens, the Ophelia would be destroyed with no trouble, this was an outcome he didn't particularly want to face.
"The cores are at 21% charge, it will still be at least 20 minutes before we can make a jump back to Polaris. At the current charge we'll get to just outside the system, but who knows how many of these things are out there. Not to mention that once we leave the debris we'll be quite royally unless these things disappear from our drive plane," Charles replied, checking the outputs from his console.
"Stow the attitude, Mr Burgundy. How soon should we be able to jump if we're discovered?" Nathaniel queried.
"Without a set course, we can jump in 15 seconds. If we stay in here, we run the risk of hitting a Keblonite deposit or larger hull fragment and being ripped to shreds. If we jump out of it, we'll be a nice little pile of smoky debris when we emerge from the Stream," Charles replied.
"Neither really is an option I want to have to consider. However, should we be discovered and we have to jump, I want the maximum distance we can reach. We may have to call on your piloting skills to keep us intact."
"Then you're lucky, Cap'n, cause I have the best hands in the fleet," Charles remarked, leaning back in his chair and cracking his knuckles, chuckling to hide his apparent nervousness.
"Captain, the damaged alien has entered the system," Sarah reported as she manoeuvred the Drones to buddy off each other to strengthen the signal.
"On the viewer, Commander," Nathaniel ordered, slumping into his chair.
The damaged alien craft slowly entered the system; its closest brethren approached it carefully, as if querying what happened to it. They then proceeded to surround it; some even briefly touched it with their wings as if consoling it. Are they ships, or creatures? Since they've clearly shown signs of independent thought? Nathaniel thought.
One of the larger 'ships' approached the damaged alien, moving its tusk-like appendages in agitation. The small colony closed ranks around their damaged companion, flapping their wings in an attempt to ward the larger ship away.
After a few minutes the larger ship lost interest and moved on, the smaller damaged craft flashed its running lights in a seemingly random pattern.
"Uh oh," Alexandra commented before placing a gloved hand across her mouth.
"What is it, Lieutenant?" Nathaniel asked, turning to face the psychic officer.
"It's talking about us, it's updating the rest of the aliens about us…It saw us head in this direction. I don't want to take a page out of the Lieutenant Colonel's book, but destroying it when we ran into it doesn't seem to be that much of a bad idea now," she replied. Her voice didn't falter, but the look in her eyes clearly displayed the terror she picked up from the aliens and the crew.
"Do they know we are here?" Nathaniel asked. Despite his years in service to the UTA, this whole sequence of events disturbed him greatly.
"I wouldn't put it past them, one or two of them did mention seeing something enter this area of space," Alexandra replied, utilising her powerful telepathic abilities to 'listen' in on the alien's communications.
"We're screwed, aren't we?" Mikhail asked, looking at the other officers.
"Not just yet. They may have spotted us for a second, but it doesn't mean that they saw us enter the system. We may not be in trouble," Alexandra reported before severing the link and falling to her knees.
"Problem, Lieutenant?" Sarah remarked, leaning against her console, clearly amused with the Psi-Ops Officer's distress.
"None of your concern, Commander. Captain, the aliens don't seem that interested with us, but their emotions were too strong for me to continue to monitor them," Alexandra remarked, taking deep heavy breaths while sweat stained her black jacket, glistening off her silver-tipped collar.
"Well at least that's something to be thankful for," Nathaniel remarked.
"I would not be too sure of that, Captain," Sarah remarked as a pair of the large Beastships turned and headed towards the debris field.
"Commander, can you confirm they have spotted us?" Nathaniel asked, sounding concerned.
Sarah studied her instruments furiously, praying to all that was holy in the universe that they were malfunctioning, before stopping and looking at the captain. "Confirmed, sir, projected trajectories will intercept our current location."
Nathaniel's response was predicted but necessary, "How?"
"I don't know, sir! The Keblonite should have masked our presence, there is no way they could have penetrated the radiation field…unless," Sarah stopped and glared at the Psi-Ops officer. "You! You brought them onto us, didn't you! Of all the things you could have done, alert them to our location is by far the dumbest you could think of," she berated the Lieutenant, as the image of the beastships grew closer.
"I did no such thing," Alexandra stated before looking at the captain and the frown that now adorned his face. "Honest, sir, I didn't leak our location to them, I…I…I…" She stopped as her pupils dilated, rolling back into her skull, standing motionless, pupil-less eyes staring at the bridge crew before her mouth quivered. The voice that came out was not her own, its timbre was dark, sinister, multivocal.
"You have trespassed on the Domain of the Great Swarm and wilfully fired upon our kin, these actions are reprehensible and judgement has been made. Your punishment will be imparted immediately." Alexandra started to circle the bridge, unfocused eyes staring at each member of the bridge crew, her blank expression lacking any trace of humanity, giving her the appearance of an automaton. Nathaniel cautiously stood from his command chair and blocked her path as she neared the outer rail that connected the gunnery stations to the rear of the ship.
"And who is this that we are speaking to?" he asked, placing his hands at his sides, palms upwards, in an attempt to appear non-threatening. Despite the general hope of encountering alien life in the galaxy, the Alliance did not exactly have a standing order when it came to first contact, especially if that first contact included the mental subversion of a member of one's crew.
Alexandra cocked her head at an awkward angle and stared at the captain; her lips quivered once more, as if she was fighting whatever had taken control of her. "We are the Swarm. We have existed from the beginning, we will exist in the end, your craft will be destroyed, and your minions will willingly offer themselves." Her head jerked violently to one side before her eyes focused on Nathaniel.
"You will surrender your ship to our will, your pitiful attempts at hiding from us will not succeed, this form has already told us your location; your destruction is assured, there is much this form can reveal."
Nathaniel shook his head as she spoke, noticing in the corner of his eye the two marines that stood at the entrance to the bridge were cautiously reaching for their sidearms.
"Is there a way for us to speak to your leaders? So that we can plead our case to them?" he asked, wishing that the Alliance had spent time teaching her captains in how to deal with alien life.
"Your attempts at negotiation are futile. Your sentence has been declared. Your presence is an affront to our greatness, your death will be severe for your transgressions against us."
By this time, the two marines had drawn their pistols and approached the Sub-Lieutenant, attempting to take her into custody. As the two neared, Alexandra grabbed one by the throat; twisting her hand, she sheared the marine's throat, sending him gurgling to the ground. Ducking a forearm strike from the second marine she brought her right hand up, connecting his nose with the palm of her hand, the audible crack echoing in the tiny room as she broke it. As the marine reeled backwards the lieutenant grabbed his tactical vest with both hands and brought him towards her; sinking her teeth into his neck she pulled back with a clump of the marine's throat. Once the two Marines lay incapacitated on the deck, Alexandra stepped closer to Nathaniel; when she was less than a metre from him, she outstretched her hand as if ready to take hold of his throat. At that point she froze, her body visibly attempting to resist the control of her alien subverter. Her eyes regained their focus, staring straight at the Captain. "I'm sorry," she muttered in apology.
Before anyone could react, Alexandra drew the service dagger that hung from her belt and embedded it to the haft into her bare neck. She stood motionless for a few more seconds, before collapsing, blood streaming down from the wound, staining her uniform.
The bridge crew were stunned at what had just transpired. Nathaniel stood staring blankly for a second as he stared down at the now bleeding officers at his feet. "Medical team to the Bridge!" he barked, registering the blood that covered the right side of his face. As several bridge crew ran over to the incapacitated crewmembers, others simply sat at their posts, still stunned. Mikhail grabbed the medkit mounted to the wall closest to him as he ran past it.
"Lieutenant? Lieutenant, can you hear me?" Nathaniel called, grabbing the medscanner from the kit and running it over her with one hand and clamping the other tightly over the bloody wound in her neck, in a futile attempt to keep his officer alive. "Where the hell is that medical team!"
"They're en route, sir, ETA two minutes," Sarah reported from her console after slaving the Communications console to her own to issue the summons.
On the Viewer, the beastships appeared at the lip of the debris field before the telemetry of one probe after another reverted to static.
"Helm, start up Pulse Generators, reverse course, take us out of here the way we came in, then go to Stream, course at your discretion. Firing Control, prep the Ares Cannon for immediate firing, we'll probably have to fight our way out of here," Sarah ordered, as Nathaniel and Mikhail tried futilely to save the Slavic Lieutenant and the two marines.
"Aye, ma'am," the officers reported as the medical team reached the bridge.
"Captain! Command your ship, leave the wounded to the Medics," Sarah snapped at the Captain as he continued to administer aid to the dying officers. It took a moment for the captain to register what she had said to force him to stand up and return to his Command Chair, as the Medics fought a losing battle in the far corner.
"Helm, get us out of here," Nathaniel ordered sullenly, wiping his face with his jacket sleeve before the ship shook violently as a Keblonite deposit detonated nearby.
"The Beastships. Sir, they don't seem willing to enter the debris field, so they've resorted to shooting into our previous location, in the hope of hitting us," Sarah reported from her console.
"Helm, how long until we're out of the field?" Nathaniel asked as the Medics wheeled Alexandra's body off the bridge while remaining medics tried to resuscitate one marine and stabilise the other. 'They seem able to remotely take control of psionic-sensitive personnel; who knows what else they can do?' he thought to himself as the Ophelia quickly made its way through the dangerous field.
"Ten seconds, sir," Charles replied as his hands danced across the movement pads, which took up the majority of his console. Sweat was glistening on his brow, dripping onto the console as he concentrated heavily on piloting the craft.
The Ophelia rocketed out of the debris cloud, shooting past a group of the smaller alien craft and straight towards a pair of the larger Beastships, who turned instinctly attempted to fire on it as it passed. However, most of these shots went wild and harmlessly detonated near the nebula.
"Firing Control, blast anything that gets too close," Nathaniel ordered as a group of the small ships appeared to be herding the Ophelia into the waiting maws of the Beastships.
"Aye, sir," Steve reported as his hands danced across his firing control panel, in response the ships forward firing Ares Cannon fired round after round, rotating on its central axis, slamming into the smaller ships with impunity, tearing wing from body and leaving massive jaggered wounds, spewing biomatter and turning the battlefield a milky blue.
"Captain, we've got two of those big alien ships on an intercept course, 219 mark 23, range, three hundred kilometres," Sarah reported bringing up the display on one of the many Holovid screens that made up the main viewer. The larger creatures came from above the debris field on a high arc.
"Then I believe it's time we made our exit, Mr Burgundy, get us out of here," Nathaniel ordered as the ship shook slightly as it was struck by bolts of bioplasma.
"Understood, sir. Entering the Stream in four, three, two, one. Activating Pulse Generators," Charles reported pressing the responding keys.
As the Ophelia's engine pods flared, the Beastships entered range of the craft and opened fire, striking the Explorer just above its engines, twin explosions detonated on the stubby wings severing the engines from the rest of the ship.
Instead of entering the Steam, the Ophelia lurched forward before her engines blew clear of the hull and the craft started to drift.
"We're cold, the Beastships struck us right in our collection tanks, the explosion sheared off our engines, we're stranded, sir," Charles reported trying repeatedly to bring life back to the adrift craft, often resorting to slamming his hands on to the controls or swearing at the computer.
"Well it seems that our location wasn't the only thing they ascertained from the Sub-Lieutenant," Sarah commented bluntly while cycling through the various different displays her sensors generated.
"Arm Hyperion Pods Alpha through Charlie, target the larger aliens, keep the Ares Cannon on those smaller ships, those guns go silent, we're all dead." Nathaniel ordered as the small ships swarmed around the front and sides of the Ophelia.
Three recessed pods at the rear of the craft emerged from their bays, rotated 180 degrees and opened fire, firing volleys of high yield subnuclear missiles straight at the larger craft. However, all this appeared to do was to infuriate them even more as they continued to pound the Ophelia. The smaller ships quickly discovered the inherent shortcomings of the Ares Gun and its 275-degree firing arc and the unfortunate fact that it was the only weapon on the ships ventral side resulted in many of the small craft latching onto the Ophelia.
"Captain, I have localised hull breaches underneath those ships, these readings don't make any sense," Sarah reported before switching the image to one of the many cameras that dotted the hull. One of the small craft had latched itself onto the side of the Ophelia, by way of small hooks on its wings, and appeared to eat its way through the hull.
"Now that makes no sense, that's four metres of Tridium Tri Composite, it takes a welding team with shipyard level equipment two hours to cut through that, and that things eating it up," Mikhail commented. As the crew looked on in horror a long thin clear membranous tube extended from the alien craft and attached itself against the hole it had made, inside large creatures could be seen scurrying down it and into the ship.
"Sound Intruder Alert, despatch Marine Teams to those locations," Nathaniel ordered as the alien ships stopped firing. "Well at least that is one thing to be thankful for."
Marine Security Team Delta, Service Shaft A2C, Deck 12
First Lieutenant Kara Mendez crawled on her hands and knees through the cramped access crawlspaces that shadowed every corridor, behind her, was the two men that all was left of her security team, lights from their J-17 Combined Combat Rifles casting long shadows on the overhangs of the small area. Like the other seven Marine Teams had been hunting the alien borders since their forced arrival on the ship. Delta Team had picked up foreign bio signatures in this section and went out to deal with the aliens. While Kara had yet to see one of the dangerous creatures herself, what she was able to ascertain from over the comm. channels amid bursts of gunfire and terrified screams for assistance, that the boarders were insect-like, roughly a metre and a half in length, fast moving, and had arrived on the ship in three groups of twelve. However, they did not stay together long; breaking up to take the fight to more sections faster than the marines could counter. What she also coldly realised when she failed to raise the other teams was that the aliens controlled most of the ship and that her three-man team was the only trained armed resistance left.
The sharp sound of pointed implements rattling on the metal deck plates heralded the presence of one or more aliens in the junction ahead of them. Kara stopped suddenly, causing her subordinates to run into her. Using her hands she brought them up to speed on what was ahead of them and what they were going to do. While both of them were reserved in their response, they also realised that it had to be done. Kara removed a flash-bang from her belt, primed it and threw it into the tunnel ahead, it bounced and rolled before disappearing into the junction. As soon as she had let go of the grenade she turned her head away from the loud bang and bright light that followed its detonation. Once it subsided, Private Lonard and Corporal Jennings rose to their haunches and ambled awkwardly into the next junction. Kara followed quickly after. Only after all three stood in the two-metre-tall room did they realise the folly of their action as two of the alien boarders rose on their serrated tails, towering to three metres over the security team, their ridged heads scraping against the roof. Their six multi-jointed limbs writhed in agitation, their massive eyeless heads growled sinisterly at the three humans that dared stand before them. For a moment, the two groups just stood there, each stunned by the presence of the other until the Marines raised their Assault rifles and opened fire at the closest alien. It roared before lunging at the team. Corporal Jennings and 2nd Lieutenant Mendez managed to jump clear of the heavy carapace; Private Lonard, however, was not so lucky, taking the full force of the creature and as it impaled him on the its front scythe-like claws and the bulkhead behind him. The sound of bones cracking on armour echoed throughout the chamber before the faint sound of a dying gurgle replaced it.
The remaining Marines did not have the time to react to the marine's death as the second alien moved towards the lieutenant. The first alien turned and focused its attention on Corporal Jennings, carelessly throwing the dead body of the Private against a bulkhead.
Kara jumped to one side of the creature, ducking out of the way of a swipe from its scythes. She rolled to its side before grabbing a leg joint, and used it to pull herself onto the alien's back. Once there, it started to buck wildly as its legs could not reach her. Grabbing her field knife, she embedded it to its haft right under its massive head, beneath the creature's large armoured cranial ridges and above its armoured torso plates. The alien screamed before thrashing violently, dislodging the knife and leaving a gaping wound in its place. The only thing keeping her from being thrown against the bulkhead was her rifle, which she quickly lodged in the wound, which seemed to close around the barrel and slowly dissolved it. Surprised she reached for a grenade only to find her pouch missing. Looking past the alien, she saw the grenade pouch in the dim light on the ground, which had dislodged when she rolled out of the way of the alien's incoming attack.
Realising her options were minimal, she grabbed the trigger of her assault rifle and squeezed it, knowing that the barrel and most of the weapon had disintegrated. Once the hammer struck the round, it detonated inside the twisted remains of the weapon, the explosive force of the detonation ripping the alien apart, killing it. The shockwave reverberated upwards, engulfing the Lieutenants body as well. She had a brief moment to look at the corporal who had his hands full with the remaining alien before the blast ripped her to pieces as well.
Corporal Jennings looked past the alien that seemed content in consuming him as the other alien exploded, sending biomatter, exoskeleton and Marine armour throughout the junction. Jennings shook his head slightly before lunging out of the way of the alien's attack. However, while in mid-flight the spikes that adorned the outer edge of the scythes cut into his torso and legs. Jennings landed heavily before clutching his chest with one hand, holding his rifle unsteadily with the other. He fired rounds erratically into the alien as it methodically approached him, most of the rounds reflecting off the creature's seemingly impervious cranial ridges. As he tried to get away from the alien, it dug into his leg with one scythe, pinning him to the metal deck plating. Screaming, he emptied his magazine into the creature's face, of which most refracted off its armoured crown. The alien brought its face close to his, hissing malevolently at him.
The smell that assaulted Jennings' senses was almost overpowering as the alien dislocated its lower jaw, as if preparing to devour him. With a free hand, he reached into his grenade pouch and primed a fragmentation grenade, using the weight of the others to keep the safety lock in place.
"Well aren't you one hell of a scaly bastard, but you're probably not such a bad freak of nature..." he started before he began coughing; the creature, however, had no inkling to what he was saying as its long forked tongue darted over his face, "…the thing is, you're just so damned ugly." He then spat at the creature, which seemed to infuriate it; in a swift motion, it impaled the other scythe into his stomach, causing him to scream again before he heard the sound of something rolling across the deck. "You hear that, you son of a bitch, that sound is your death; tell Satan, Bobby sent you!' Jennings remarked before the collective grenade detonations converted the two of them to piles of muscle and exoskeleton.
The Bridge had quickly resembled a defence bunker with a detachment of the ship's remaining Marines staffing makeshift emplacements. Word had trickled up through the ship that the aliens were controlling over 90% of their vessel, with the exception of small pockets of armed resistance near the Armoury, Medbay and parts of the Engineering section. However, the bridge had become cut off from those areas some time before the aliens broke into Engineering. The marines stationed inside the large double blast doors of the bridge knew it was only a matter of time before they too came under attack. Since all but automated systems and those on auxiliary generators were offline with the exception of Sarah and Mikhail, whose systems ran primarily on battery power the other bridge crew sat behind hastily erected barricades clutching J-17 assault rifles tightly. The marines even managed to lug two .57 cal. machine guns from the Armoury moments before it was overrun and were wearily staffing them.
"Captain, internal sensors are now offline, external sensor batteries at 42%," Sarah reported.
"Transmit our logs and all information on these aliens to Polaris Command. Sarah, transfer the battery power from weapons control to the communications array. We may be overrun, but we can give Polaris time to formulate a defence…" Nathaniel ordered, as a ghostly clicking could be heard in the exterior corridor to the bridge moments before large dents appeared in the thick Tridium blast doors.
"Aye, sir," Sarah and Mikhail responded as they worked to compile the data, trying to ignore the ever-increasing thumping. Once Sarah gave the word, Mikhail sent the gigaquads of data to the distant Resupply and Command Station.
Mikhail managed to transmit all the data just seconds before the console blacked out. "That's it, sir; mains are out completely, we running solely on reserve battery power, but only enough to maintain life support and gravity plating."
"That will have to do, Mr Sovora, but do we have any idea if Polaris Command received our transmission?" Nathaniel asked while walking around the bridge, as the thumping noise got louder.
In response, Mikhail looked at his captain and shrugged as the main lights failed, replaced by blue emergency lights at the roof and floor. While these lights provided some illumination, for the most part the bridge was in darkness. "I couldn't tell you, sir, I attached a brief message to it informing them we were lost, and sent it first. If Polaris follows protocol, and I'm hoping Admiral Yeager does, they'll send a task group to find out what happened to us," Mikhail explained before the blast doors caved in as a pair of aliens burst into the room. Before the doors could hit the ground, the marines opened fire, injuring the aliens mortally. The first two ranks of aliens where felled by successive volleys of automatic fire.
In a final attempt, these aliens threw their bullet-riddled bodies at the emplacement, using their carapaces to block the field of fire. Even though dead, their bodies proved difficult to move as more aliens entered, using the corpses of their fallen brethren to scale the barricade, hissing and snarling at the marines that stood in their way. The nine marines interposed themselves between the aliens and the command crew, who had retreated to the front of the bridge, forming a firing line. The marines were for the most part successful in holding the aliens at bay, at one point almost forcing them back over the barricade simply by force of firepower until another alien leaped over it, careering into the fire team, sending them reeling. The three marines directly underneath the alien were killed instantly as the creature's scythes impaled two of them. The centre marine came up close and personal with the alien's jaws, however. He did not have much of a chance before he was ripped to pieces. The remaining six marines scattered around the bridge as three of the scorpion-like aliens clambered through the cramped confines.
In the dim light it seemed the aliens had the advantage over the Marines as they stalked the soldiers. Their sharp, multi-jointed legs rattled along the deck, the sound echoing through the bridge. The light at the edge of the walls made long shadows, increasing the ominous appearance of the aliens. Occasional erratic bursts of automatic fire echoed through the room, returned by inhuman screams and the sound of bodies hitting deckplates. However, instead of retaliating, the aliens seemed to be herding the bridge crew towards the command chair. One after another, rifles went silent as ammunition reserves diminished.
"Are you okay, Mr Daniels?" Nathaniel asked as he noticed one of the marines was walking with a pronounced limp before the marine sat down with the others around the Command Chair.
"I'll be fine, sir, considering…" the Marine replied as a strange new set of footsteps could be heard approaching. These were different from the aliens', they appeared bipedal, almost humanoid, but with a sharp clinking following every footstep. They then seemed to be joined by another two bipedal sets of footsteps; however, these were heavier than the first set.
The footsteps slowly approached the remains of the blast doors and entered.
Two of the three figures were large hulking brutes with spikes from their shoulders down to their tails, and great heads lined with rows of razor-sharp teeth. Each carried a long, pike-like weapon that seemed to glow from an interior source and they wore helmets that barely covered their heads, as if they were designed for another species entirely. Once they were clear of the door, they climbed over the barricade and stood like ominous sentinels, their presence causing many of the bridge to cower in fear.
"Oh please, don't get all excited about those two, they are the least of your concern," a voice commented as the third figure entered the room; it had the appearance of a humanoid female in stance and silhouette. However, that was as far as the similarities went, as a pair of red eyes shone through the dim light. 'She' climbed over the barricade by way of four thin multi-jointed appendages that appeared from the centre of her slender back. Once she was standing before the Command Crew, the limbs retracted back into her spine, and she now stood in the light arc created by the staves of her two guardians, only then did the crew get a good look at her. She wore a black, open-chested halter that ended in a pair of claws over her ample bust; while her waist was bare, over her slender hips she wore a simple-looking metal skirt, covered in chains and various skeletal remains. Her arms were for the most part bare, with the exception of a pair of spiked gauntlets, and her right arm ended in a sinister black claw with talons reaching to mid-thigh. She also wore what appeared to be black knee-high boots, ending in jagged cloven feet, with spikes curving up at the knee. Her dark attire was topped with sinister spiked pauldrons and a long shimmering black cape. Her skin was for the most part deathly pale, with large venomous green patches and black veins criss-crossing across her flesh. Her long waist-length black hair was wild, as it itself was alive; it seemed to move as if propelled by its own source.
Nathaniel didn't need to be telepathic to tell the appearance of this new woman terrified most of the crew; he too was terrified by her sinister appearance. Standing carefully he took a step towards her. The aliens snarled threateningly and the two guards crossed their pikes defensively in front of the woman.
"There is no need for all of this, I am Captain Nathaniel Goldstrom of the Untied Terran Alliance, we meant no disrespect if we have trespassed into your territory," he stammered, trying to maintain some level of composure.
The woman for an instant appeared taken aback by his words before a malicious grin appeared on her face. "How… quaint, the rodent can speak. However, my patience wears thing, you presume too much. We control the entire galaxy; your pleas will not save you from the destruction your pitiful race deserves. You dare stand as equals before your obvious betters."
With a glance that bore no trace of mercy, an unseen force compelled the bridge crew to their knees. The captain felt something hard under his right hand as he braced himself on the deckplates. A quick glance showed the black outline of a discarded M6D Shortarm pistol; encircling his fingers around the grip of the weapon Nathaniel looked up at the woman once more.
"Surely there is a way for us to plead our case? We may be inferior, but we are resourceful," he remarked, as he had to physically force his body to respond to his wishes.
The woman sneered contemptuously before bringing her gaze squarely on the captain. "All you are is an annoyance and something that deserves to be exterminated, there will be no negotiations, there will be no pleas. Only death…"
The woman only faintly registered a short click before a peal of thunder resounded through the tiny room, sending her backwards as Nathaniel released his grip on the trigger. He, however, did not have time for a rousing speech as the woman stood up almost instantly, a large open wound obscuring her left eye. Instead of speaking, she glowered at him, causing darkness from inside his skull to overtake him.
Kalon High Throne Room, Supreme Command Spire, Kalonardra
Naira severed the connection between her Swarm Masters and the human before turning to face them; from their agitated state, she could tell they understood the severity of the situation. They appeared to have ignored the cowering human Captain, who had stopped professing his people's innocence or defiance and was weeping softly to himself while in a foetal position amongst a puddle of his own blood caused by one of his Lysarian Handlers had ripped his left arm clean from, its socket. Satisfied that the creature was no longer a threat, they dropped the chain attached to his neck.
[KriTora, I hope for your sake that you understand the severity the threat Humanity possess.] Naira remarked before returning to her throne, consciously moving her hair to cover the growing scaled skin that covered her now useless left eye.
[Understood, My Queen. What will be done with them? Any divergence from our grand scheme will allow the Wretched Ones the opportunity to regroup their forces. Prolonging the Cleansing moments before our imminent victory.] KriTora replied reverently. He knew that it was important to stay on his Dark Mistress' good side this far from sympathetic forces, lest he fall prey to her wrath. While the Swarms all served Naira without question, it did not guarantee that the competitive Swarm Masters wouldn't kill each other to get to the position of Chief Swarm Master, or to increase the size of their own forces or domain. This was the reason why that even at the heart of Kalon Controlled Space, far from aggressors, the Swarm Masters was accompanied by their bodyguards.
Naira closed her eye briefly, before projecting the new plan into the minds of her Swarm Masters.
[My Dear KriTora, you will oversee the elimination of Humanity. The Wretched Ones and our slain enemies called you the Great Destroyer, now is time to live up to your title. Use whatever means you deem necessary. I want it done!] Naira demanded, growing irritated with the human that was slowly pulling himself together.
"Humanity won't just lie down because you wish it, my queen. The Alliance will stop you, Sentinel snipers will make an excellent blood splatter of the inside of your skull, and we will parade your mutilated corpse through the streets of the Capital! Our fleets will rain hellfire down on this world, and nothing you can do will stop that," Nathaniel declared while grabbing the bleeding mess that was his shoulder and struggling to get to his feet.
Naira turned from her Swarm Masters to face him; the look on her face could only be interpreted as sadistic amusement as she crossed the supple floor to stand mere metres from this annoying upstart.
"You insignificant fool! The Great Swarm has existed for eons, long before your pitiful race emerged forth from the primordial ooze and will continue long after your world has rend itself in two! My children have wrought their terror on entire galaxies! You are not the first miserable excuse that has professed their defiance or their intention to see me taken as a trophy. But like theirs, and this I can assure you, once my children have amused themselves with your miserable race's worlds, and your fleets lie broken and crumbled beneath our feet, your kin will welcome inevitable death as an escape from my brutality, and then, maybe then, I might agree to deliver you to whatever delusion of deity you believe in!" her thin metallic, multivocal voice assaulted him. She stood in front of her captive, looking down contemptuously while extending her four bone spines and causing her visible eye to glow blood red, giving her a form more at home in the human officer's nightmares.
Nathaniel recoiled as Naira's telepathic voice boomed at him, but he tried to remain resolute. "Your hordes have never faced a race like Humanity before, and I assure you that the Alliance will not be the ones found wanting."
"Oh give it up, Captain," a plainly annoyed but eerily familiar voice commanded from behind him, causing him to turn quickly and shudder, as Commander Sarah Havilland entered the chamber. However, she only barely resembled her former self. A menacing, dark, dripping spike-covered appendage ending in a menacing claw now replaced her left arm and the same growth that adorned Naira had started to fester on her olive skin, her hair was slick and grime covered, and her eyes had gained a soulless, empty gaze. The only connection to her previous existence was a tattered UTEC uniform.
"Sarah? What have they done to you?" Nathaniel asked, appalled at the abomination his executive officer had become. The woman shook her head dismissively, before walking past him and standing respectfully at Naira's side.
"They haven't done anything to me; I welcomed this. All they did was make me see that Humanity is a lost cause, and that we need to serve the Whole in order to continue our existence," Sarah replied. Her voice was slowly turning to one similar to Naira's: dark, sinister, unhuman.
Nathaniel sighed sadly before placing his hand on her remaining shoulder. "No, that's not true. That's not the Sarah I know. They have corrupted you, deceived you, turned you against the Alliance, against Humanity," Nathaniel pleaded, hoping there was some semblance of humanity.
However, the face that looked back at him did not show the compassion it once had, only contempt for everything he stood for.
"If only you could see things as they really are, the Alliance is weak and is festering in the stench of its own death. The Separatists can see it, and now, thanks to the Whole's enlightenment, I see it as well. Humanity has been fighting itself since it learnt to stand erect and will continue to do so until it tears itself apart. Now it is time for it to pay for its sins," Havilland hissed as Naira turned to face her, running her humanoid hand against the former officer's cheek the way one would a favourite pet.
[My Child, remove this…this thing from my presence as a sign of your unwavering loyalty to the Whole.] Naira demanded, clicking her long claws together, clearly amused by her order before ascending her throne once more.
"At once…Mistress," Sarah replied. Stepping towards Nathaniel, she brought her clawed arm closer to her face, caressing her skin with the serrated surface. She cut herself but remained unaware that she had done so, even as dark red blood trickled down her cheek like a tear. In response, Nathaniel stepped back.
"No, I won't fight you, Commander, and you won't fight me. I'm ordering you to stand down," Nathaniel ordered, trying to reach the human underneath the alien perversion.
"Now, now, Captain, what makes you think that I care what you have to say anymore? I serve powers far greater than you, or your pitiful Alliance," Sarah sneered before lunging at him, bringing the spiked outer ridge down past his head. The swing went wide, and only managed to connect with his leg, as his arm had already been severed on that side. Sarah overcompensated for the movement and rolled head over heels, before recovering her balance quickly.
Nathaniel screamed in pain but stayed true to his statement and refused to fight back, moving as best he could with a now injured leg away from his former executive officer. He rolled out of the way of another swipe and came up close to his original handlers, who appeared to be enjoying the spectacle, so much so that one pushed him back. The other turned to its offsider and made what would be the alien equivalent of a laugh.
Sarah smiled patronisingly, showing off newly grown fangs as Nathaniel fell in front of her. Pinning him to the ground with her boot, she raised the spike-covered claw above her again. She looked into his eyes and smirked pityingly. "You really should have joined us, Nathaniel, but you were always about duty and sacrifice, you poor fool. Oh well," Sarah remarked casually before dropping to one knee, with an expression of faint remorse as she reached down and ripped the captain's carotid artery from his neck, dropping it to the soft floor beside her. Nathaniel gurgled as blood poured from his neck, before falling silent, his sightless eyes staring up at his former executive officer. The woman stood motionless, her head cocked to one side, mesmerised by the intricate patterns Nathaniel's blood was making as it meshed with the organic floor below her boots.
[Very good, My Child, you have proved your worth to the Whole.] Naira commended before turning to her Swarm Masters. [KriTora, our sentries have reported another of their vessels trespassing on our domain, it should prove useful. Take our newest servant with you on your conquest; she should be able to assist you in your Cleansing,] she ordered, leaning back in her throne.
[At once, My Queen, these filthy creatures will trouble you no longer,] KriTora replied, before bowing and leaving the chamber, crushing the now-dead Captain's skull underneath one large clawed foot. Sarah followed behind him obediently.