The Votheen had realised pretty quickly that the counter offensive was far more than just saving face. The distraction teams were in place and doing their job but The Keep had gotten the aliens’ attention as they had begun committing more troops to it. As Cesh attempted to clear the upper landing zone which led to The Keep congress area, Votheen interceptors hurtled overhead. The Votheen trashed the last transport before it even had chance to touchdown. One occupant jumped from its sliding hatch when he saw the danger but was crushed under the flaming wreckage. Soon after that the drop ships arrived and took care of the fighters. Just three of the planned twelve had gotten through, Cesh hoped more would be on the way but she was pleased for some sort of reinforcements. They swung low and touched down, landing on the walkway to the speaker’s platform that Cesh had visited with Shayara on her first visit here. It seemed like such a long time ago. The old breed of Votheen were thin on the ground, replaced by their much improved and cunning brethren. It made the Luminary wonder whether the black Votheen had begun to phase their lesser feral form out completely. The Votheen had camped out on the far side of the bridge but allied forces had them on the back foot now. The Luminary leapt over one of the corpses of a marine and unloaded a needle tipped round from her shotgun which took over the arm of the Votheen who stood over it. The rest of its body exploded in a mist of nasty coloured fluid thanks to the chain gun of the last drop ship that landed just in front of her.
Shayara dropped out of the ship and wondered whether the High Senate had survived the initial invasion. She assumed they were in hiding. Willing to tough it out while the rest of the galaxy fought for them. But here was the ex-Human senator, in the trenches with them. She knew if the races were to survive they’d need leadership but Shayara was certain the current batch was insufficient. Arkan Sha’Ni was full of prejudice and allowed fear to compromise his judgement. Ora Acil was frail and too much of a pushover when it came to refuting the will of the aforementioned Caliterrian. As for the Selin, it seemed the entire race was incapable of making a decision or a stand. The rest of the occupants followed quickly, Jarner walked much better with the holo-crutch that held his leg together. He had flatly refused proper treatment until everything was over. It wasn’t the perfect solution but he could walk now, convincingly at that. Shayara watched the Atribulan with fascination. They were more than a match for the Votheen and were turning the tide of the war, even though the alien threat had them all outnumbered collectively. “Got some of that frustration out?” she directed to Cesh who was still clutching her weapon intently.
“Although it will not bring my crew back, yes,” she said reservedly. The memory still pained her and Shayara was unsure whether she remembered all of it yet. She moved to observe the scene and realised there was a lack of command amongst the varied collection of races and combatants. She took the chance and climbed on top of a drop ship. “Listen up!” Despite the war around them, everyone looked in her direction. “If we push on, the Votheen will follow. They know we are looking for something and I don’t need to tell you how important it is that they don’t get it first. The fact they don’t know what it is is a luxury that may change at any moment. We need to slow them down, and to do that we need a team to make a stand right here and now. The Atribulan Administrator and his honour guard will lead the research team to find The Void but they need time to do that,” she bellowed as grumbles of varied opinions rolled over the assembled. “I realise it is a bold request and there may be many casualties. Especially if the Votheen realise how important this is. The decisions we make here could save billions, no. Will save billions.” Cesh climbed upon the makeshift speaker’s podium and placed a hand on the Pariah Captain’s shoulder.
“I will lead the holding squad and I ask anyone who wishes to join me do so. It is time we took the fight to the Votheen.” Shayara thought about questioning the Sarcurian Luminary. Was she sure this is what she wanted, but then she thought better of it. She didn’t want a revenge-fuelled agenda but she hoped that wouldn’t make Cesh’s orders foolish, only more formidable.
Many people stepped forward to join the Sarcurian. Shayara was pleasantly surprised and eternally grateful. She just hoped the Votheen didn’t swamp their position. They’d opted to set up two defensive positions. One on the bridge that was more exposed but would prevent enemy ships from landing and one in the waiting chamber. The narrow singular entrance would be prefect, forcing the Votheen straight into a firing range. The research team departed as soon as was possible, after stocking up on ammunition. The Administrator had two honour guard and was joined by Shayara, Jarner, Isaac, Alexander and two marines. One male and one female. Shayara observed several mechs on their way to The Keep’s Senate congress Chamber. “Someone has beaten us here.” They edged down the long hallway and its vacant checkpoints, well aware it was a horrendous place for cover if it was an ambush. They climbed the speaker’s platform unscathed and at first everything looked fine. Then, when Shayara had reached the summit, she noticed the High Senate platform had disappeared completely. The half-moon shaped hole in floor was also a new addition. She peered over the end but couldn’t quite make out the bottom of the shaft. “Now that, I have never seen. Have the Votheen found the pit?” Alexander said aghast at the hidden bunker hidden in plain sight. The male marine used his binoculars and turned a sickly shade of white. “The bottom is full of rubble…and bodies.” He breathed tightly.
“Do you think the High Senators were on the platform when it gave way?” Jarner asked many unsure and dark expressive faces. Alexander tossed an empty magazine down the shaft, heard it rattle off the sides and eventually a dull clang sounded. It was a long way down indeed.
“Ideas?” The President had a great displeasure of heights and had since he was a child. Without warning the Atribulan jumped. Just as it looked like they were going to become a gross mess mixed amongst the rubble, they activated their gauntlets and glided to an inch perfect rest. Jarner looked through the binoculars he’d snatched and smiled. “That’s pretty cool…showoffs.”
A good portion of the Research team stayed in the Senate congress chamber, Alexander opted to lead the team which would cover their exit. It made sense to have someone making sure they could get out but as Shayara made her painfully slow descent down the shaft, she realised a swift retreat would not be possible. Not unless the Atribulan had an ace up their sleeve that they hadn’t yet shared. As they got half way down, orbs encapsulated them, snatching them from the walls. At first most of the descent team fought against them, but it was soon evident the Atribulan had sent them up to speed things along. Shayara floated down gently and was soon followed by Isaac, Jarner and the female marine whose name they had learnt was Jenny. Jarner slumped amongst the rubble, propping himself up against the outer surface of the shaft. “You guys go on ahead, I need to catch my breath.” He wheezed as Shayara began to sift through the bodies that had been dead a while. Isaac offered to keep him company which he gratefully accepted despite his bruised ego. Shayara found the Senate Security Director and had to stifle a gasp. The Atribulan had moved on beyond the crippled blast door, Shayara rushed to catch up. The room was a large flat space with many pillars in two neat rows. The Atribulan had begun using a holo-terminal that hung to the left of the room while Shayara moved to the Caliterrian that appeared to have been killed there. She recognised none, until she reached the AI core that had a football-sized hole in it. Face down was a Guardian she had wished dead but it was something else seeing him that way. “That stubborn bastard always did want to play hero,” Shayara said as the walls around them began to unfurl like they had in the living quarters of the Atribulan warship. To the immediate left was a large ovular chamber below them, a wide staircase led down to it. In the centre of the room was a circular hole which was shut. Four lines led from it at north, east, south and west angles and flowed up to the roof where they joined and carried on upward through another small shaft. The Atribulan descended first, the Administrator stood upon the circle and was enveloped by an orange sphere that Shayara assumed was some kind of interface. The lines began to glow in an ambient fashion to, getting stronger with each moment. Shayara assumed after so much time of inactivity that calibration may be required but the Administrator was finished after a few seconds and once he’d vacated the sphere the circular pit opened up, pulsating with the common white electrical buzz of Atribulan technology. The Administrator removed a vial from his armour’s sleeve and explained it contained the base DNA of the Votheen. Throwing a Votheen into the pit would also have worked but required an element of effort and danger. He poured the contents slowly and as he finished the light intensified, swirling violently upward and along the lines. The energy moved around them, knowing when to accommodate the room’s occupants. Once the pulsations had reached incredibly frequent rates white flame shot from The Void and the energy flowed up and out the shaft to the roof.