Pariahs and Peacemakers

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Twenty One

The heavy rainfall struggled to penetrate the forest roof due to the incredibly dense foliage. It sounded breezy but the staggered tree line broke any kind of wind down long before it reached the Senate detachment. The platoon moved like phantoms across the forest floor with their adaptive armour that shifted to the environment as they moved. Larik Kass, handpicked by Senator Sha’Ni, took point and kept a very watchful eye on his motion tracker. The greenery restricted any clear line of sight. The unit’s new scout returned and informed reliably that they had finally reached the edge of the forest and the city beyond. The insertion point had been a mile away from the city by a stealth frigate and Larik’s team had been one of two. The other was working its way down from the north as Larik’s unit approached from the south. Larik moved toward the scout who he had honestly had reservations about. He was Human and had almost as much experience with the Votheen as Larik but he had come away worse for wear and still wore the fresh scars like a trophy. Senate Security wanted this assignment all to themselves but humanity had dug in its heels enough to get one of its own attached to the mission. They had only accepted Isaac Jericho as he had previous experience with the Votheen. Senator Wilhelm assumed the Senate wanted to tie up loose ends and secretly hoped Isaac wouldn’t survive the operation but the Human Senator was extremely confident in Jericho’s tenacity despite the fact his injuries had not yet fully healed from his last venture. Larik didn’t like having a man on the team he didn’t know and neither did he like the fact Isaac didn’t pledge allegiance to the Senate military. This wasn’t helped by the fact that when Larik had attempted to research his new recruit the Senate had deemed his previous mission worthy of red tape. The only thing that had Larik on side was that Isaac had told him that he wasn’t going to sit back and do nothing when the Votheen were out here plotting against Earth and its colonies. He respected a man of action, no reservations although Isaac seemed to forget that this was bigger than just humanity.

“You sure you should still be here, Commander Jericho? I can’t say I have much confidence in a one-eyed scout.” Isaac met the steely gaze with a look that shook off the remark like an annoying fly.

“I could show you how good my sight is by shooting down your bad attitude, just say the word,” he answered back more suggestively than aggressively. It stirred a few Caliterrian enough for them to stifle a titter. Colonel Larik Kass stopped the murmurs with just a look and replied to the snide remark with a look of contempt. “I can’t see any movement, a lot of cover out there too,” Jericho informed remembering his role in the squad. As the team edged out nervily to the greys of the city their armour adjusted to the new colour pallet. The city appeared as though it had been sacked although this planet had never been visited by anyone else. Had the Votheen been fighting amongst themselves at some point, Larik wondered. The objective was a spire in the centre of the city that command had decided was a base of operations and although the outskirts were ghostly they had promised much activity in the centre. The mission was purely recon for now. With no other option than a full-scale assault on the Votheen home world of Sayloch, the Senate wished to know more of their plans. Larik did his best to keep his unit off of the main streets and used any cubby holes he could as cover. Any rooftop, building or window could have been a sniper nest and he was immensely aware of that. Taking a moment in the space where a house had once been, Larik assumed the city had once been a majestic example of design and architecture. Towers with reflective walls, ebony spires and gravity defying structures that seemed too top heavy to exist, all stood proudly the deeper into the city they got.

A faint hum sounded from a noncommittal direction which caused the hairs on the back of Larik’s neck to stand proud. “Off the street!” he yelled as he charged across a large open square and dived under the shadow of a building that had collapsed and been caught by its neighbour mid fall. The stability of the structure was questionable but Larik assumed the damage wasn’t recent and it hadn’t fallen down yet so it would do. Seconds after the last soldier had scrambled to safety two matte black alien drop ships with golden tracery crossed the skyline, shimmering with crimson pulsations. The first continued north-west toward their objective while the other hovered above the square and touched down two hundred yards from the Senate Security squad’s position. Larik fully expected a couple of Votheen scouts and he wasn’t disappointed. Three figures crawled out of the rear hatch before the ship spiralled upward and chased down its partner on the horizon. Two of the targets were like no other Votheen Larik had ever seen, and judging by the gasp Isaac let out, that went for him to. They were slimmer, with an exoskeleton closer to black in colour than the typical tan. He examined them closely through binoculars trying particularly hard not to draw attention to himself through lens flare and movement. The two new breed of Votheen appeared to be senior to the other and the one with the scar over its left eye seemed to be in charge as he ordered the tan-coloured Votheen into a building to provide overwatch. “You seen this before, Colonel?” interrogated Isaac more loudly than he would have liked. Larik shook his head and his face must have been a picture. “What the hell’s going on?”

Senator Alexander Wilhelm was asleep at his desk when his AI Construct Greaves received an anonymous data burst. He had struggled to sleep over the last couple of days, between Arkan’s threat and the impending sense of doom from the Votheen, it had proved to be quite a potent mix for insomnia. “Senator,” the butler AI stirred his master rather sympathetically. Alexander wiped his groggy eyes and coughed, clearing his rapidly worsening throat. “I apologise but it is rather urgent, Senator. Priority transmission for you from Atlas.” Alexander’s eyes shot open despite his tiredness. He spoke no words as his AI put it up for him to view. The data packet was thick and had no identifying marks from its sender. He began skim reading the documents but upon realising what it contained he went back to the beginning and read each word as though his life depended on it, in a way it did. It took a good hour and a half but he pounded through it all before he dared to speak again. He couldn’t believe it, all the information he needed from names and places to dates and times. He wished he could verify the source but the fact it came from Atlas gave it weight in his eyes. At least until it named the head of the resistance movement and then Alexander swore and couldn’t believe his eyes. Leon Winter was a high profile politician and ex-general of the Human Confederate Navy. He was the last person Alexander would have ever suspected. He had half a mind to disregard the whole document but what else did he have to go on? Something in the back of his mind made him mull it over which took almost as long as it had taken to read the whole thing. Was it possible? He was an old man now, retired before humanity was allowed into the ranks of Senate Security. Did he resent humanity’s willingness to serve under alien rule and not the centuries old Navy? He couldn’t be sure whether he was grasping at straws or too biased to see what was right in front of him and he doubted he would know until Leon was in physically before him. “Bring him in.”

It was dark by the time the advance recon team reached the target objective. They’d been hindered the whole way, having to wait for the new breed of Votheen to move through the area first. Larik led his men through a building with a gutted front which eventually allowed them to reach the roof. The high vantage point allowed them to survey the scene from all angles. The target was a large intersection in between three huge spires. A small ramshackle base lay in the centre of the street which looked like it had been recently erected. A convey moved from the east and followed a ramp down underneath the central spire which Larik assumed was where the main base lay. “How are we going to get in there, Colonel?” Isaac questioned. Before he could answer another drop ship came overhead adding to Larik’s suspicion that they were either gaining reinforcements or shutting up for good. It swivelled and touched down in a gap only just wide enough to accommodate its girth. The first out was one of the new breed of Votheen who was followed by a beaten and restrained Caliterrian. Larik couldn’t believe his eyes, it was the leader of the second Senate insertion team, Faros Li’Kar. As he was marched toward the ramp he gave a sly wink in the direction of the building that Larik was on, hardly noticeable but definitely there. “That clever reckless bastard.” Larik swore realising what Faros had done. In the pit of his stomach however he assumed that the rest of Faros’s unit was KIA as that was how the Votheen operated. He wondered whether Faros had known that when he had gotten himself purposely captured. In the Votheen’s eyes, prisoners of war took effort while commanding officers could be interrogated and tortured for information. Larik couldn’t even confirm his assumption as radio silence was mandatory on this assignment. They didn’t know much of the Votheen’s technical abilities but they assumed that an alien radio signal would stick out to them like hiding in the dark with flares. “Plan, Colonel?” Requested one of the Sarcurian snipers without looking up from her scope. Larik swept the area with his binoculars and picked up another small convoy moving from the east. “That’s our ticket in.”

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