Dark Omega

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“So, we’re free to go?” Shiloh said, not quite believing his ears. He was standing in what had probably been a hospital waiting room. Now it was empty, save a still functioning coffee machine, and some boxes of medicinal supplies stacked along one wall.

“Yes,” the black-armored giant with the ruined face replied.

“Just like that?”

“Just like that. I have what I need. There is no need for further questioning. And feel free to use the coffee machine,” Kaminsky said as if reading Shiloh’s thoughts.

“I was just…never mind.” The former pilot and wing commander moved over to the machine, grabbed a cup from a shelf, and hit the button for regular black.

“Your mind, Ajax Shiloh, is like an open book to me,” the giant said while Shiloh waited for the cup to fill. “Between your statements, the recordings from the interrogation, and what I’ve plucked from your head, I have enough. Or were you thinking about the horror tales you heard about the Order as a kid?”

“I…no…yes, I guess I was.” He tried the coffee. It was hot and black as sin. Just the way he liked it.

“I don’t torture people,” Kaminsky said. “I’m not a Quaestor, searching for hidden answers. I’m a Custodian—what you’d call a Keeper. A priest of the Dragon if you will, and a warrior-legate. It is my job to protect the Knights, keep them safe from Abyssal influence and hostile psychics. Questioning you is not a typical task for me.”

“But isn’t this like a Dragonic fortress or something? Don’t you have dungeons and interrogators or whatnot?”

“Draconic, Shiloh, not Dragonic. But yes, it’s a fort of sorts. A converted hospital if I’m not mistaken. And yes, there have been a lot of interrogations. But the action has moved on, so to speak, and the resident Quaestor left with the rest. The Word of Light was cleaned out of Thira long ago. We caught the local Bishop early in the war, made him talk. That’s why the fort was established here, to begin with.”

“Bishop? Was that what we caught?”

“Yes.” The blind giant looked the Shiloh in the eye. “A Bishop is the leader of a congregation. A high priest—and a legate—in league with Abyssal powers. Very dangerous. In fact, I was initially concerned that you had been converted.”

“Never been the religious type,” Shiloh said and sipped the coffee. “And this ‘Word of Light’ seemed less appealing than most religions.” The brew was too hot, but it gave an excuse to look away. It didn’t help—Shiloh could still feel the eye-less Keeper looking into his soul.

“You’d be surprised how many find their faith when they fear death is near.”

Shiloh couldn’t argue with that. He’d certainly said a few prayers or called out to the Gods when he was sure his time was up.

“Or when shown the horrors of the Abyss.”

“What do you mean?” Shiloh said. He knew what the Abyss was, of course. The great pit of darkness lurking beneath the physical universe, the place where the Shadow dwelled, attended by its legions of vengeful spirits. The counterpart of the Olympus, the heavenly abode of the Gods of the Pantheon.

“The Bishop will speak to you, soft honeyed words, promising community and protection, while also showing you the horrors clawing at the veil separation our universe from theirs. What would you choose, Wing Commander? A fate far worse than death? Or to walk in the dark light with your brethren at your side?”

When Kaminsky put it that way, Shiloh wasn’t so sure about the answer. “Good thing you caught the guy early then. Lucky that.”

“No luck involved, Shiloh. It was the Will of the Dragon.”


“Yes. The shadow-worshippers took prisoner one of our Quaestors, but he was able to reach out to the Order and tell them what we needed to know. It made the Assembly decide to support the Archon’s war. The Order’s intervention convinced the Archon to send substantial reinforcements to this world. The Conclave too—they don’t like the Shadow any more than the Dragon does.”

“Got a medal for that, I guess?”

“A medal?”

“The Quaestor, I mean. For uncovering the Word.”

“I see. No. We have no medals, Shiloh. He did his duty. Then he died. He’s with the Dragon now, waiting for the next cycle. That’s a bigger reward than any medal.”

“Next cycle? What’s that mean?”

“The cycle of death and rebirth, Shiloh. We serve Him, not only in this one life but in all lives to come. Such is our pledge to Him.”

“No underworld, no Hades for you guys, then?” The Conclave taught the children of the Dominion that the spirits of the righteous dead passed into the Khtonic realm. There they were judged and, based on their conduct and piety in life, would either get to enjoy eternal life in the Blessed Fields of Elysium—or a more glum, but not horrible, afterlife in Hades proper.

“No Hades for us,” Kaminsky confirmed. “We go to the Dragon’s Eyrie. There we wait to be reborn, so we might serve again. Well, some of us do. The rest wait for Ragnarök, the Final Battle.”

“I’ve heard about that one,” Shiloh said. In the back of his mind, he seemed to recall something he’d picked up at school. “Something to do with the death of the gods and the end of the world?” he hazarded.

“Not bad, not bad at all, Wing Commander. Yes, that one.”

“So you guys fight at the Dragon’s side, beat the bad guys, and things turn out all right?”

“We fight to prevent endless night, Shiloh. Failing that, the Dragon will destroy the universe, thus resetting the cycle. But don’t go around saying that. Not even to other members of the Order, should you run into any. It will only get you into trouble. Most people are too small-minded to fathom this. Let it be our little secret.”

There was a period of silence.

“Sounds pretty glum,” Shiloh finally said.

“It’s what we are. There is no greater honor than serving the Dragon. No greater task than the one we’ve been given.”

“What do we do now? Me and Jarra, I mean.” Shiloh said to change the subject. “How do we get back to our unit?”

“You don’t.”

“What? But…”

“There is no unit to go back to. It was overrun by the Akakians shortly after I picked you up. No Coalition survivors as far as Command is concerned.”

“Damn.” All my friends are dead?

“But Command doesn’t know everything ..”

“I don’t understand,” Shiloh said. Everyone but me and Jarra gone?

“They are not all dead. Some still live. Your man Anaximander, he’s leading a few survivors away from the war zone.”

“Thank the Gods,” Shiloh blurted.

“I’d say thank the Dragon, but to each his own.”

“How do you know?”

“I may not have eyes, but I see a great many things, Wing Commander. But you will not see them again, so put them out of your mind, and think only forward.

“You are free to find a place here in Thira. The Dragon will put his Mark on you, to make sure you are not unduly bothered by vengeful Coalition officers, but the rest is up to you. Live a good life with a woman who loves you, find the Dragon and make a difference, or squander your life’s days. It’s your choice.”

“Mark? What is that?”

“The Dragonmark is a sacred symbol, a golden dragon rampant over your heart. All those sworn to the Dragon have one. Sometimes one is granted to a friend of the Order. To have a Mark means you belong to the Dragon. And we protect our own most fiercely.”

Shiloh turned his head to look through a small window at Jarra, sleeping on a field bed in the next room. Kaminsky had assured him she was all right, only exhausted. She was dressed in the same stupid hospital gown he was, but still looked stunning.

“I told you: she’s fine. But she’s much stronger than you, Shiloh, her mind fought against mine with the strength of ten tigers. That’s why she’s out. She’s a remarkable woman. As are you, in your own way.”

“I’m not a woman, My Lord.”

Kaminsky ignored Shiloh’s attempt at humor. “She’s a scion and a powerful one at that.”

“She’s not nobility,” Shiloh blurted. “She’s a commoner. A meso commoner. There’s no changing that.” The ruling class had the blood of old gods in their veins. Commoners did not. That was one of the fundamental pillars of society across the width and breadth of the Successor Kingdoms.

“Mesomorphs are as human as you and me, Shiloh. The differences in our genes and hers are minuscule. It is only because the changes make her as big and strong as me that you take notice.”

“That’s not what I meant, Lord Kaminsky. I just haven’t heard of any meso nobles, that’s all.”

“The gods died a long time ago, and their lineages were born at the same time. Metahumans were designed later, as humans spread out to settle among the stars, only to find so very few places unaugmented humans could live. Interbreeding between humans and metas rarely produces fertile offspring. As a result, there are exceedingly few metahuman scions.”

“You said few. That means there are some?”

Kaminsky nodded. “We call it the Dragon’s Choice. One of many gifts he’s given to humans.”

“The Dragon’s Choice? Never heard of it.” He’d heard of the gifts though: the Tarot to divine the Will of the Gods, legate powers to fight the Shadow, and superluminal flight to conquer the galaxy.

“It’s not spoken of. Neither the nobility nor the priests of the Conclave like the idea that divine might can be granted to a person by the Will of the Dragon. It undermines their inviolable power and authority. So they pretend it’s only a myth.

If what the giant warrior said was true, anyone could, in theory, become a noble. And the process was under the control of the Order’s strange Dragon god.

“It’s the same as with the Tarot. Do you know its proper name? Occulus Draconis, meaning the Dragon’s all-seeing vision,” Kaminsky continued without giving Shiloh a chance to reply. “It doesn’t show the will of the gods of the Pantheon, but the Will of the Dragon. The lies humans tell themselves to make the universe fit their dogma, rather than open their eyes and see the truth. I cannot understand it.”

“Yeah, well, the truth is sometimes painful.”

“Her primogenitor is Bastet. That’s why she’s tough as iron and faster than a cheetah.”

“Cheetah?” Shiloh had no idea what the Keeper was talking about.

“An extinct feline from Old Earth. Bastet. Feline. See?”

Shiloh shook his head. “Sorry, but not.”

“Bastet, the dead Cat-headed Goddess? Cat to feline?”

“I get it, I get it. Jarra does that too. Makes me feel like an idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot, Shiloh. You lack proper education. You’re a clever fellow, but you need education. Have her teach you. She’s more learned than most.” He pointed at Jarra’s sleeping form in the next room.

“She is brilliant,” Shiloh said. “But she never mentioned education.”

“Her mother knew that Jarruvela was special. She worked hard to give her daughter an education—a chance to get away from the mindless toil and brutality of their homeworld. Jarra went to college on Archaos, would you believe. But no one wanted to hire a meso scholar, so here she is.”

“I’ll ask her,” Shiloh replied. “Why are you telling me all this, My Lord?” he added.

“There is quality to you too, Wing Commander, but it is harder to pin down. You’re not a potential, not a latent psychic, so that means you are also of the divine blood. But I cannot say for certain whom your forefather is.”

“Me, a scion? That’s not possible. I’m a commoner. As are my parents, and their parents, and…” Shiloh’s voice trailed away. If—and that was a big if—the Dragon could make Jarra a scion, then perhaps he could be one as well.

“Irrelevant. You are a scion. This is a fact. The Dragon can make any commoner a scion if it pleases him. Why am I telling you all these things? The Dragon has blessed you both, brought you together, protected you from the Shadow, and placed you in front of me, his Keeper. This is no chance meeting, Shiloh. It is the Will of my God—and I heed his commands always. Seeing you two here, on this war-torn world, gives me hope, strengthens my resolve.

“But now, Wing Commander, I must take my leave. I have consulted the Tarot, and our paths are not the same. Go stay by your woman’s side. When she wakes, you will be given clothes and what equipment we can spare. Then you will be on your own.”

“Thanks, Keeper Kaminsky. It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”

“Thank the Dragon, Shiloh, if you wish. But remember: his blessings can be a two-edged sword, oft requiring great sacrifice. A day will come when you might regret ever having been touched. On that day, you will be faced with a choice: to stand with the Dragon or to stand by and watch the universe descend into darkness.” And with that, he turned and marched out, leaving Shiloh with only a cup of coffee for company. And here I thought the Dragon Order was a nasty, violent bunch. Maybe they are, but at least they are civilized about it.


“It’s a shame you’re so small, Ajax,” Jarra said as she slumped down on the field bed next to Shiloh. “Or I might have decided to keep you,” she sighed, voice soft and relaxed for once.

The naked pilot lying next to her laughed. He kept on laughing until he was out of breath, gulped down some more air, kept on laughing. An elbow to the ribs finally calmed him down enough to speak. “It’s a shame you’ve no person skills, Jaruvela, or I might have decided to let you keep me.”

“Don’t call me that, Ajax,” she said sharply.

“Call you what? Jaruvela? Isn’t that your name?”

“Not anymore. Now it’s Jarra,” she said.

“Well, you keep calling me ‘Ajax.’ I told you I don’t go by that name. You can call me Shiloh like everyone else. Or ‘oh gods.’ That also works.”

She elbowed him again. “Bastard!” she blurted, but her voice was playful. “You’re not saying it right. It’s spelled Jarruvela, not Jaruvela. You’re supposed to roll that extra ‘r’ around for a while, mix it with some phlegm, and then sort of vomit up the rest of the letters.”

Shiloh began laughing again. It’s good to laugh. I should do it more.

Jarra popped up on one elbow and looked at Shiloh’s handsome profile. “For a small man,” she said chidingly, “you are surprisingly well equipped.” Her eyes wandered, lingering for a moment on the golden dragonmark clearly visible over his heart. Jarra had one just like it. The way Shiloh told it, the blind Keeper had put the marks there, to ward of evil spirits—and Coalition officers.

Shiloh stretched, showing off his body. He was leaner than he used to be. Life as a Wing Commander had made him soft. No such luxury in the Coalition Army. “I know. The girls were always like ‘it’s too big to fit in there’ and ’look at the size of that thing’ and ‘I won’t be able to sit for days’—good thing I met you. You’re a big girl, you can handle a man my size.”

That earned him another thump in the ribs; he was beginning to feel sore. Totally worth it. He started laughing again.

Later, after they had made love again, cleaned up, dressed, and shared a light meal, the conversation turned more somber.

“I heard it from the Colonel: we’ll be given settlement rights. It’s not official yet, but it will be soon. Seems they can’t hold the planet with just a normal garrison,” Jarra said.

Shiloh had another sip of the foul liquor he’d gotten from one of the guys in the machine shop—he’d called it grappa, but it was nothing of the sort. Tastes like lubricant. Probably just what it is. He shook his head. “Settlement—it’s not for the likes of you and me, Jarra. You know that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she said, a hint of anger in her voice.

“For you, it’s like this: you’re a mesomorph. Do you honestly think you’ll get handed anything you can make a living from? Not a chance. You’ll get something small and worthless. Something to guarantee you’ll reenlist.”

“And what’s your excuse?”

“Losing the flagship,” Shiloh said curtly and had another go at the lubricant-turned-liquor. Calling this grappa is an affront to already bad-tasting liquor.

“But you have the dragonmark. That’s gotta be worth something.”

“Well, they won’t shoot me, but they sure as hell won’t be giving me a valuable property.”

“But we’re scions, heirs to the gods of yore,” Jarra objected. There was that, of course. Shiloh had told her what Kaminsky had told him about the Dragon’s Choice. That they were both blooded—and that Jarra’s incredible speed, among other things, was a result of that.

“We can’t tell anyone, you know that. They either wouldn’t believe us—or they would believe us, and we’d get disappeared.”

“That’s plain unfair,” Jarra said.

“It’s an unfair galaxy, my dear. You know that better than most.” She said nothing, but her black look spoke volumes. “Look, Colonel Burness is a great officer. And a good man. A rare gem in a sea of pebbles. But he ain’t no paragon.”

“You can dispense with the poetry, little man.”

Shiloh shrugged. Arguing with Jarra was no use. “Point is: we can’t stay with these guys forever. When things settle down, they’ll want us gone.”

“And the Brigadier?” Jarra snapped. “He seems to like you. And he’s a general.”

“de Carvour? He’s a general, but only just. He likes my war stories and my lack of gambling skills, but he won’t stick his neck out for me. His own people come first.”

“We are his people now.”

Shiloh shook his head. “No, we’re not. None of the auxiliaries are. We’re not from Loches, so we’re not his people.”

“So what’s your plan, Ajax.” She used his first name deliberately.

Shiloh shook his head again. “I don’t know.” He sighed heavily. “Look, my crew is gone. Even if some still live, I can’t do shit for them. I don’t know.”

“I like you, little man: I’ve decided to adopt you. Keep you around: for tidying my tent, readying my uniform—and for my sexual pleasure, of course.” She put her hand over his mouth to keep him from replying. “We’ll stick around for a while, see how this plays out since we’ve no other options, but once things settle down, we’re going to strike out on our own. Leave this bloody world. But whatever happens, we stick together. You belong to me now.”

“That sounds…delightful…and just a little bit frightening,” he replied, shooting Jarra his best cocky-fighter-jock smile.

“You’ve no idea Ajax, you’ve no idea.” She kissed him fiercely, willing his warmth to chase away the cold that gripped at her soul.


A few days later, Shiloh was standing in the opening of their camp tent—there wasn’t enough prefab housing for everyone—brushing his teeth.

There was some commotion at the front gate. Colonel Burness was nearby and went over to check. He came back with the cold-eyed scout-sniper, Luca, and some kid in tow. Shiloh was pretty sure he’d seen the boy before, but couldn’t place him. All three disappeared into the Colonel’s crib.

After a while, the kid and Luca came back outside. The sniper disappeared somewhere, leaving the kid. A GI Shiloh didn’t know very well walked past, pretending to shoot the boy in the head with his finger.

“Jarra?” he said without turning.

“Yes,” she replied and came to stand next to him.

“The kid. I think I’ve seen him before.”

Jarra shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe. Looks like a local. Maybe the kid of one of the regular women?”

“Probably,” Shiloh said and nodded.

“How is this important?”

“It’s not, I just…”

“Out with it, I won’t laugh. Much.”

“I just got this feeling, you know. The one I get when I fly into battle.”

“Like death is breathing down your neck?”

“That’s the one.”

Jarra looked at the boy for a while. “He’s just a kid. Completely harmless. Probably just looking for his mom or something. Let it go, Shiloh. Come back inside. The morning mist is cold and wet, and it’s getting into the tent.” She disappeared inside.

The former pilot turned to follow her. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m being silly.” He twisted his head to have one last look at the boy, but the lad wasn’t there. In his place stood the towering shape of Hades, Lord of the Dead, hewn from the same red rock the Protasians favored for their ancestor statues. Shiloh nearly shit himself but managed to keep it together. He stumbled after Jarra into the tent, not wanting to know what the vision meant.

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