Book II

Prelude to Genocide

Freya had recorded every word and gesture of the conversation between the senior scientist fresh from cold sleep and Max Zapata. If computers had an evil side, Freya's was more pronounced than most. Something about the entire conversation caused ripples in her normally-placid positronic membranes.

She replayed the holographic recording first privately to Erik then, as he commanded, at the beginning of the Council of Advisors' meeting. Erik's face was rigid, showing absolutely no emotion. Instead, he watched the faces of his counselors and his non-human friends.

After watching as Max put the Imp scientist back into cold sleep there was a moment of silence before the eruption Erik had hoped would occur.

"They mean to exterminate any non-humans and take their systems as their own. They're no better than the fooking Trill!" Goudy's comment pretty much summarized the others but was more specific.

Boone leaned back and took in the assembled group, most of whom had been loyal Imperial subjects until meeting and joining with the Valhallans. The fact that they were as dismayed as Goudy spoke well of them. He spoke softly, letting his words carry his emotional turnoil.

"Freya needs to send this recording in data packets to every member of the Confederation Senate. Some will doubt its veracity but as a psy-ops maneuver it will sow dissent among the members and perhaps force the Empire to tip its hand, so to speak. It will certainly finalize the withdrawal of Scythia, Xingxia and Ch'tor's systems from the confederation, perhaps even provoke some of the fence-sitters to pick sides."

Cecil Rhodes spoke up for one of the few times he'd said anything. "It will be the worlds that lack space travel capabilities that this Empire moves on first. Quick occupation and elimination like something out of Earth's ancient history. They won't be able to withstand a space-borne invasion. They'll be a training ground for the Imps to hone their methods and skills. It will be bloody, brutal and sudden. None of the so-called 'civilized' systems and groups will even find out about it until they appear in their own skies. What can we do, Erik?"

"I agree with Boone. Freya, send the data packets to all Senators, including our friends in the Unity of Worlds. If possible, also identify any worlds with the capability of receiving our packets and include them in the transmissions. I think it's time to assemble Thor's Hammer and smite the Empire on all fronts. If we continue Yashida's asymetrical warfare, perhaps we can buy the others time to come to their senses and join us."

'Erik, all data packets have been transmitted. What about the clones we carry on board? They cannot be reconditioned even by the Imperials. They are a clear and present danger to the Farseeker and her population.'

"Dispose of them as painlessly as possible. They represent everything that is wrong about an Empire. I'll not have them aboard my ship." He had been forced to conclude that 'helpless human beings' was a term he could no longer afford, nor could he afford the luxury of mercy to those who would exterminate entire races and species in the cause of Imperial Expansion.

Xoxon of the Xingxian Union was arrested by Imperial Guardsmen, tried for 'high treason against the Confederation of Worlds' and publicly executed. A holographic recording of his 'trial' was sent to every Confederation world and colony.

The ruling Houses of the Xingxian Union promptly severed all ties with the Confederation and initiated steps to rapdily expand its small navy. Like most Confederation members, it had come to depend on the Imperial Navy and Marines to handle any 'interstellar threats' or rebellions on its colony worlds, putting public funds into building its trading fleet as opposed to a real naval force.

The people of Chrysals lamented the turn of the Empire but did absolutely nothing in the way of defensive preparations. They were avowed pacifists. However, small groups of trained physicians volunteered to establish and staff sick bay units on the ships of the Unity of Worlds rebels.

Scythia had already mobilized its very small fleet of FTL-capable freighters and customs vessels but had reactivated old shipyards in anticipation of an order from the Houses to ramp up construction. Their naval and troop recruiting stations had long lines of young felines itching to get into the fight.

After a long voyage plagued by training incidents and ordinary tech failures, the two Behemoths appeared in orbit around their capital world. There was no shortage of applicants to crew Scythia's newest and most modern warships.

Being a member of both the political and warrior class as well as being well-known for having initiated the secession of Scythia from the Confederation, Mroaw was offered a position as commander of one of the vessels but turned it down flat.

"I belong with the Vikings on Farseeker as a representative of our systems. I want to see how the Vikings fight against their own kind and ensure that our interests are fairly represented. And I want to avenge the murder of our friend from Xingxia, Xoxos, who was as brave a being as any Scythian. Thank you for the honor but I have made my decision."

On all three principal worlds of the Unity of Worlds, Imperial diplomats were 'interned for the duration of hostilities'. All commerce between those entities halted and their own diplomats were called home for 'consultations'.

Boone's indendent colony was almost immediately occupied by Imperial forces and a dictatorship by Imperial Decree was established. Any dissidents simply disappeared.

"This is the closest world that is currently being harvested and 'reseeded'. There are still Trill ships in orbit around the planet and we have detected non-organic objects in orbit. It makes a tempting target and will perhaps deter them from involving their Race Worlds in the coming rebellion. Either way, the Trill ships need to be destroyed and a message sent to those blobs that Vikings have long memories."

The group listened to Suji Yashida as she outlined their plan of attack. This would be the first time the Vikings had encountered a 'Seeder' and they had no reason to alter what had worked in the past.

"Launch your fireflies, Air Marshal. Take a long circular route and come in behind them. Worm your missiles into their bellies and drive them into the salt mine network." Erik flexed his new hand and longed to get into the fight himself. Perhaps Cheoh might relent and train him as she was training so many other Vikings.

The bridge was humming with excited voices issuing commands and preparing to engage the Seeder. There were exclamations of surprise as the huge ship, easily 3 times the size of a harvester, settled into a shallow dive, using its thick carapace as an organic heat shield.

"Natalya, bring all weapons to bear on the Seeder. We can at least rob the Trill of their garden world. Fire as you bear. I want it totally annihilated as a lesson to the Trill." His blood lust was up and he paced around behind each workstation, frustrated to be stuck on the bridge.

One of the bridge techs said loudly, "I'm picking up images of resistance on the surface, a few pockets of the inhabitants but they are all surrounded by those damned grinders and have precious little time to live."

Erik spoke into the headset and announced, "All Marine and Viking ground units, armor up and meet me in docking bay 3. We have grinders to kill and natives to save."

"Erik, no, please! You're in overall command. You just can't go rushing off because you want to wet your sword. Remember your responsibilities!" Natalya was torn between joining him and keeping a constant barrage of weaponry on the descending Seeder ship.

"To hell with command. You are 2nd in command. Assume overall control of the battle. I have Trill to kill." He stormed off the bridge followed by a security detachment of marines already in armor.

"Father, we cannot hold them. We should say our prayers to our ancestors and let them know we died as warriors not craven cowards." He was young, just past 14 summers and each of his four arms bore the wounds of older warriors. He threw a spear directly into the maw of a grinder and laughed as it treilled its death knell.

"You make an old warrior proud to call you son. Let us - " He stopped as did almost all the milling group of Falgers, their arms bristling with spears. The ground around the encircled warriors erupted in explosions the likes of which they'd never seen before. They roared and cheered as strange flying birds spewed death among the grinders cutting a path between isolated groups of Falgers.

The old warrior blew his war horn and signaled his surviving force to join up with the others who were protecting the women and children as best they could.

Another large flying bird swooped down and rained on the giant slugs. This rain proved deadly to the slugs as they trilled and dissolved. A warrior felt the rain on his back and screeched but soon laughed. "It's the water of the bitter sea!" and held up a paw and sipped at the rain and roared as more grinders dissolved.

On the bridge of Farseeker, everyone watched as the Seeder finally began to burn and tumble out of control. It's impact left a long deep furrow through ranks of grinders still mindlessly consuming anything organic.

"Cheoh, return half your fireflies to Farseeker to rearm and refuel. I want a continuous rain of fire on those damned Trill. The king is on the ground with the land forces trying to cut a path through the grinders and join up with the small group of natives still fighting. Nemesis has discharged our Marines and will provide additional fire power until Erik can get those natives onto shuttles or Nemesis itself and back to Farseeker."

Erik emerged from the hold of Nemesis and stood before his assault troops, his sword held high over his head.

"Some of you remember being in the fight at the causeway on Valhalla. Let's help these natives slay Trill! Sheld wall! Follow me!"

As one solid wall, the Vikings advanced, the first rank holding the grinders at bay while the second and third ranks threw salt grenades, clearing a path to the beleagured natives. It didn't matter if they were animals or sentient beings - if they fought the Trill, they were comrades in arms.

Upon uniting with the natives, both leaders had the same thought: What strange creatures...

Erik raised his visor and smiled at the obvious leader of the four-armed biped warriors. "Erik," he said, pointing to himself. "Krang," growled the other, lifting his spears in tribute. He pointed to a smaller warrior beside him and growled proudly, "Krang'a" and pointed to the other's wounds as if saying 'he is young but fights like a warrior'.

Erik swept his sword at the grinders and shook his head, then made a 'follow me' gesture and pointed to the Nemesis that was firing lasers from its turrets into the surging grinders but it was only a matter of time until they were all overrun.

Krang understood and lifted his war horn and blew a complex series of notes and the warriors formed a cordon around the females and cubs and followed the strange creature up a ramp and into the Nemesis' cavernous hold. Erik ordered his own troops to withdraw and turned to see Goudy and his Amazons cut off from the freighter and safety.

Without a thought he ran through the slush of dissolved grinders and began pelting the grinders who had mindlessly surrounded his friend and the Amazons with what few salt grenades he had left. He almost screamed when a huge grinder suddenly reared up and flattened itself over Goudy and a few of his Amazons. He threw several salt grenades and began to pull Amazons out of the way hoping beyond hope that somehow his friend had survived.

"You shouldn't be here, King. Go back. We will retrieve Sir Goudy's body if at all possible. He was our leader and we failed him. The shield wall could not withstand the press of so many grinders." An Amazon warrior in black armor pulled at his arm as others pulled the dead and dying from the fight and carried them to the center of the milling group, fighting to hold off the mindless grinders.

"He was my friend. I'll not leave him here to rot on some strange world. Take your Amazons to the freighter. That is an order, for you are their new commander. Save your people. I have to find my friend."

He turned and watched as the Trill finally dissolved into a nasty, smelly sludge. He began digging into the sludge hoping to find Goudy before the Trill grinders came for him. He was startled as salt grenades and firelance blasts began peppering the grinders, keeping them from overrunning him. An armored arm thrust up from the sludge and Goudy tried to stand but Erik was on him, carrying him back to the hasty shield wall and then onto the freighter.

The Amazon who had disobeyed his order knelt beside Goudy, wiping the sludge off his armor and gasping at the way it had been breached by the weight of the grinder. "Will he live, King? We cannot lose our leader. He rallied us, kept us from running with his bawdy humor. He is our heart. We will be nothing without him." Her normal blue color was a bright green which was indicative of great emotional stress.

"He will, if we get him to Farseeker and into cold sleep until we can assess the damage. Who are you and why didn't you obey an order from your king?" He wasn't angry. The heat of battle had burned out his anger and he was simply curious about why the Xingxian had disobeyed him.

"I am called Krista. He calls me 'chameleon' when he's training us. We withdrew but found a shield wall of 3 ranks advancing towards you and we simply merged with them so it wasn't actually disobedience, King Erik, more like taking a tactical advantage. Vikings cannot lose their king. It is bad enough we've lost Sir Goudy."

Goudy moaned and Krista ignored Erik, lifted Goudy's visor and wiped the blood and sludge from his face. "That fooking beastie nearly did me in, lass. It's a good thing you useless chameleons had slain so many before. I merely sunk into their guts when I was flattened. My sword? Where is it? I cannot enter Valhalla without a sword in my hand! You know the legend, Erik. Please - sword..." as he choked on his own blood. Erik took his own sword and wrapped Goudy's hand around the pommel. Without a word, he stormed up onto the command deck and ordered an immediate return to Farseeker.

Ch'tor stood beside the cryo pod that housed the crushed body of the boisterous human known as Goudy. "He is a fighter just like my ancestors were before the Great Revelation taught us the futility of violence. He is beyond my skills. This is merely postponing death." The large creature attempted to comfort the smaller flame-haired Xingxian but the woman merely shrugged off her massive arm and whispered, "He is our Heart. He will defeat death as the Viking king has promised or my comrades and I will eliminate the entire Cytollan race no matter how many generations of us it will take."

Krista left the med bay and went out into the corridor where her sister Amazons waited for news. Her face rigid in anger at the fates, she shared what little hope she had.

"He still lives."