Vengeance is reserved only for El Eylon. He is the High Judge seated in the High Places. He is the Master of all that is just. For El Eylon will repay evil doers for their deeds. Though the robe of vengeance is righteous when worn by Him, it is a terrible yoke to others when they bear it for themselves - Book of Impartation 35:43-45

Location: Maynerian Dynasty Medical Station in orbit around Gykara V

Date: Two thousand twenty-eight years beyond the Ascension

A thousand revelations are spoken in the pace of that vessel, Maynerian Dynasty Colonel Tyaal Veriss reasoned mentally as he gazed out of the viewport. This situation is horrendous indeed.

Pale beams of the system's sun filtered through the thick rings surrounding the dark green planet of Gykara V like spotlights illuminating a cosmic stage. In the distance, the shadowed form of a large black obelisk-shaped vessel moved slowly beneath the rings like the bronze fin whales gliding gracefully in the oceans on Avos II.

As the ship continued towards the station, a single band of sunlight softly swept across the hull, revealing a crimson heart within a circle surrounded by a pair of blood-red wings emblazoned on the vessel's dorsal surface. Veriss exhaled as he studied the insignia of the Maynerian Dynasty Medical Corps.

"What has your fleet uncovered out there, Tyaal?" Maynerian Dynasty Commodore Gavyn Trass asked, breaking Veriss's concentration as he stepped up next to him. He cocked his head towards Veriss. "Tell me; I need to know."

Greeting me with the pleasantries of my first name? It isn't enough to convince me to betray the High Command's trust, Veriss thought as he turned his hazel eyes towards Trass and pulled a duty cap from the belt on his black form-fitted flight suit. He quickly slid it into place to conceal his head of silver-streaked dark hair that had been misshapen by his flight helmet.

He frowned and stared up at the slightly taller Commodore. "That information is classified, sir."

You called my bluff, Tyaal. Well played, Trass silently conceded. He nodded as he scratched the back of his head full of silver hair. "Fair enough. Though, whatever it was, evidently our enemies took it as a provocation to attack four Class-A Star Ferries in the Lyaros System." Trass gestured towards the viewport. "And as you have probably deduced from the medical ship out there, the aftermath of the attack was rather gruesome."

"Sir, I studied the preliminary report en route to the station. Approximately five hundred casualties out of over twelve hundred passengers," Veriss replied as he glanced at the vessel, which had slowed its approach significantly. "And according to the latest update, that figure is expected to increase substantially."

Trass grimaced as he gazed out at the approaching medical ship. "I'm afraid so." He cast a sideways glance at Veriss. "Colonel, perhaps you should examine the data recordings from the attacks."

Veriss nodded as he turned away from the viewport. "The sooner I can gather the facts, the sooner I can begin an investigation and submit my report to his Majesty, sir."

Trass sighed and cast a blank stare at Veriss. "Your experience as Admiral Prolov's Fighter Wing Commander and Fleet Intelligence Director isn't the only reason I called you here, Colonel." Trass trailed off and glanced to the right for a second before continuing. "I summoned you to be here personally for Admiral Prolov, Tyaal."

He used my given name again. The absence of pleasantry is revealing. His vocal tone in mentioning Prolov conceals a morbid truth, Veriss thought. He straightened his posture as he crossed his arms. "I presume the casualty figures have been updated. Am I correct, sir?"

A loaded question. He must already know. Such are the perks of working in the Intelligence Division, Trass pondered silently. He motioned towards a black hexagonal table situated in a recessed area just down the corridor. "See for yourself, Colonel."

Veriss stared at the table as he walked alongside Trass. "Sir, I did find a certain aspect of the preliminary report to be rather troubling. In such attacks, I would expect there to be a wide range of injuries consistent with combat wounds. However, I noticed that the report stated that all of the recovered victims suffered thermal injuries. I find that to be rather odd."

"I concur, Colonel," Trass replied as they paused at the edge of the table. "However, the evidence will speak for itself."

Trass waved his hand over a sensor on the side of the table. The device came to life with a series of red flashes before a crimson-hued holographic display filled the air above the table. Four bulbous-hulled vessels came into view. The Class-A Civilian Interstellar Ferries were nicknamed "space tortoises" by most of the pilots in the Maynerian Dynasty due to their robustly round design.

A series of beeps rang out before eight dagger-shaped fighter craft dropped out of a sling drive jump just aft of the Star Ferries. Four fighters broke off from the formation and entered into flight headings paralleling the ferries. The remaining four fighters raced towards the sluggish ships on attack vectors.

"Mark VIII Sunblade fighters," Veriss noted. "Their dual capabilities as a fighter/bomber practically rendered a separate bomber force obsolete within the Amosian Contingency Starfighter Corps."

"Amosian Contingency bastards!", Trass exclaimed with clenched fists. "Violation of the Jycera Accords is a war crime!"

The Jycera Accords had been ratified in 1802 YBTA following the horrific battle of Jycera Prime that resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths. Under the Accords, both the Maynerian Dynasty and the Amosian Contingency were forbidden from targeting civilian population centers, colonies, and unarmed civilian craft.

"I caution you not to rush to judgment, sir," Veriss said blankly. "In my experiences, I have learned things are not always as they seem."

Trass narrowed his eyes. "Are you suggesting we are dealing with rogues, Colonel?"

"Sir, with all due respect, I'm only suggesting we reserve judgment until the facts have been uncovered by the pending investigation," Veris replied as he thought, His mannerisms reveal him. The narrowing of the eyes and the sudden sharpness in his tone. Perhaps he lost a loved one in this attack.

"My apologies, Colonel," Trass said with a shake of his head. "I let my emotions get the best of me."

Veriss nodded. "Sir, that's understandable especially considering the circumstances." He pressed a control on the table's side. "Let's see what we have here. Lyaros system is the location of a civilian way station serving as a hub for connecting sling drive jumps to various points in that quadrant of the galaxy. Routes to the S'Varian star system are the predominant jump points from that particular station."

"Lyaros was created as a safe haven for civilian travelers under the Jycera Accords," Trass said as he focused his attention on the readout. "If someone was going to violate the Accords just to make a statement, then why not also attack the way station?"

Veriss gestured towards the holographic image of the Amosian Contingency fighters. "That's simple. They had a specific target in mind and therefore attacking the way station would have been impractical and overkill. Notice their vectors as they approach the ferries."

Trass turned his eyes to the holographic display. Four of the fighters spread out from the ferries and began a series of spins and sharp turns. The remaining four performed similar, but tighter maneuvers as they continued on their courses towards their targets.

"What are they doing?" Trass asked, keeping his gaze locked on the display.

"If you take into consideration the fighters in the space opposite of the ferries, you will see their tactics are standard evasive maneuvers commonly utilized by attacking forces to contend with enemy fighters", Veriss replied, pointing at the fighters in the holographic image. "The tactics used by the other four fighters are standard evasion maneuvers designed to elude the tracking and targeting computers on the point defense systems on our dreadnought battlecruisers."

Trass gasped and glared at Veriss. "How did you come to such a conclusion, Colonel?"

Veriss remained rigid and emotionless. "If we factor in the numerical data from known Amosian Contingency fighter tactics, we can ascertain that the maneuvers of these particular fighters would suffice in countering fighters launched from a dreadnought. Mathematical computation also reveals the evasive maneuvers of the fighters attacking the star ferries would be sufficient in countering the point defense systems of a dreadnought as well. Of course, in most military campaigns the attacking forces would be substantially larger."

"But these are unarmed civilian ferries, Colonel." Trass stated, crossing his arms while narrowing his eyes. "Why would they perform such maneuvers? Training, perhaps?"

Veriss shook his head and countered, "No, sir. They are mocking us."

"Mocking us?", Trass gasped. He furrowed his brow and glanced at Veriss. "Why would they do that, Colonel?"

Another attempt to catch me off guard. He wants me to disclose secrets I've been ordered to discuss with no one. His efforts are noble but futile., Veriss thought. He pursed his lips while rubbing his chin with his right hand. "As I stated previously, that information is classified. However, I can reasonably deduce that since the ferries' point of origin was Renda Noth their intended target was the House of Prolov. Specifically, Annalisa Prolov, wife of Admiral Garren Prolov."

Trass nodded while pressing a control on the holographic panel in front of him. "And that assertion can be confirmed, Colonel."

Interesting response. He obviously knows more than he is telling. Veriss thought. He gestured towards the holotable. "Sir, you have my attention. Enlighten me."

Trass turned away from the holotable and moved towards the bulkhead. "This way, Colonel."

A grid of red laser beams appeared on the wall. The metallic compound of the bulkhead wavered before transitioning into an open passageway. Veriss followed Trass into a slightly curving corridor leading to the lower deck of the medical station. Every ten feet, they passed by a viewport. Veriss took a quick glance out of each one.

The massive obelisk of the medical ship had eclipsed the spheres of Gykara V and the system's star. Another glance out of the next viewport revealed the ship opening its pointed bow like the gaping jaws of a great beast preparing to consume a meal. Moving to the next viewport, Veriss gazed upon the ship pressing its opened bow against the flattened outer hull of the station.

Veriss and Trass paused at a bulkhead near the end of the corridor. Trass cast a sideways glance at Veriss. "Colonel, I know as a military man you are accustomed to seeing gruesome casualties in the heat of battle. I must caution you that even military men as seasoned as both of us are susceptible to emotional responses when dealing with civilian casualties."

He's testing me again. But why would he take such risks knowing that I've been hardened through decades of military service? Veriss thought before offering a response. "Sir, that's why it is imperative that I begin the interview process with the survivors. They will be a valuable resource in our fact-finding endeavors."

"Colonel…" Trass said with a soft tone. He trailed off as he held his gaze on Veriss for a few moments before continuing. "There are no survivors."

Veriss offered him an emotionless glance. "Sir, I have to know. Have they identified Annalisa Prolov?"

Trass nodded. "She was the first one identified and recovered. The medical corps sent her remains in a smaller shuttle that arrived several minutes before the medical vessel."

So, that's why he stated it could be confirmed Annalisa Prolov was the intended target, Veriss thought. He drew in a breath, keeping his eyes on Trass. "Sir, did you view her remains yourself? And if so, what is your analysis?"

Trass shuddered while wiping sweat off of his forehead. "It was horrific. She was charred from head to toe. Burned beyond recognition. The identification implant in her right shoulder was used to obtain her identity. She was found in the main passenger section, curled in a fetal position with the…" Trask paused. His breaths came in broken pulses as if he were fighting to keep from bursting into tears. "She was holding the charred remains of her unborn fetus. The excruciating pain from her burns forced her into premature labor. Her body ejected the fetus and she fell to the deck and clutched it as she burned to death."

Colonel Veriss clenched his fists and exhaled. Before he could respond, a grid appeared on the wall. The metallic structure vanished, leaving an opening leading into the main hangar bay of the medical station. A stinging stench of burned flesh flowed through the opening like a strong rip current.

Trass grimaced and pinched his nose closed before stepping out into the hangar. Veriss's expression remained neutral under the odor's futile attack on his nostrils. He was used to the smell from his years of harsh warfare. Gruesome injuries and savage death had become such a routine part of his life in his service to the Maynerian Dynasty that he barely flinched at the sight of it.

A pair of curved metallic tubes protruding from a black metal orb on the ceiling rotated rapidly, spinning a web of red laser grids. A slate-hued conveyor belt appeared as the grid subsided. The orb pulled the tubes towards the opening where the medial vessel had joined with the station's hull leaving a newly formed conveyor in their wake.

At the opening, a duo of Medical technicians concealed within loose-fitting black biohazard suits placed silver human-shaped vacuum bags on the conveyor. A few meters down from them, another pair of similarly suited technicians monitored displays while the metallic tags on the containers were scanned as they passed by.

A chorus of footsteps rapidly approaching from behind caught Veriss and Trask's attention. They turned to see an indistinguishable figure moving in the shadows. A pair of medical technicians stepped forward towards the figure.

"Sir, please calm down! This isn't going to be a pleasant sight!" one of them said as he began to struggle with the figure.

The figure pushed his way out of the shadows, "Let me through! I have to see her!"

Maynerian Dynasty Admiral Garren Prolov moved into a beam of sunlight emanating from a viewport situated high above the room. His dark hair tinged with gray strands was a mess. His hazel eyes blazed with a concoction of fury and grief. His muscles tightened visibly beneath his form-fitting flight suit. The pair of medical technicians walked up behind him and restrained him.

"Listen to me, Admiral!" one of the technicians said, trying to reason with him. "It won't do any good-"

"Let him go see her, Lieutenant Commander!" shouted Trass. The Lieutenant Commander stepped out of the way as ordered. Trask held out his hand in a welcoming gesture. "Admiral, we have her in an isolated room. Please follow me."

Prolov paused and cocked his head towards Veriss. "Please come with me, Tyaal."

Veriss nodded before walking just to Prolov's left. Prolov sobbed as he followed Trass. Veriss fought emotion as he walked with Prolov. It hung in the air like an invisible toxic gas. It almost choked him to tears, but he mentally fought off the encroaching sadness.

That's it. Keep your composure and remain strong for him, Veriss reasoned mentally. He glanced over to Prolov. He will need you now more than ever. He's holding onto false hope. He obviously doesn't know the reality of the situation. It will devastate him when he finds out.

Trass turned down a narrow corridor to the left of the main hangar. He walked up to the first door on the right and paused for a moment. He pressed a control and allowed the door to slide upwards. He motioned for Veriss and Prolov to follow him into the room. A metallic table stretched out lengthways from the bulkhead. A sheet of silver material lay across the form of a human in a fetal position.

Veriss stepped back and allowed Prolov to move closer to the table. The Admiral paused just a couple of feet from the edge. He looked away as Trask pulled back the sheet. From his position, Colonel Veriss could not see what was visible under the sheet. Slowly

Prolov turned to look at his wife. He put his hand to his mouth as he let out a muffled scream. He stepped back against the wall, sliding to the floor as he wept bitterly.

He shook his head, crying uncontrollably. "Annalisa! Oh, Annalisa..."

He turned and embraced Veriss. The Colonel held the Admiral while fighting back emotion himself. He stared at the terrible sight of the horribly burned remains of Prolov's wife as he held Prolov. Through the Admiral's screams of emotional torment, Veriss heard something far more than grief. As he continued to hold his friend, he could feel the anger rising within him. And he knew what it meant for those who had perpetrated such a cowardly act.

I was wrong, Veriss thought as Prolov continued to weep. This didn't just devastate him. Instead it has opened a floodgate of rage and those responsible for this attack will be swept away in its raging waters…"