It was lunchtime on the planet Portus, and the trainees of Brother Martin were enjoying a lunch of lamb stew and Merrin fruit, along with some normal cow milk. The last thing was something Alex had come to truly enjoy. Over the last three months, the trainees had become a very tight knit group, and they were currently having a debate over the subject of their lectures from this morning. The two primary participants were Alex and Wulfric with the rest primarily just listening and throwing in small comments here and there. Between mouthfuls of stew and fruit, Alex was attempting to explain how the Overlord could not really be omnipotent. “If, as you claim, the ancient texts are to be believed literally, and the Overlord truly is all- powerful, and all-knowing, then He definitely could not be as kind or as loving as people try to claim He is. After all, what sort of loving God would allow this so-called Great War to occur which ended with the creation of darkspace all those years ago? What sort of God would allow all of known space to endure over two hundred years of warfare? Surely it is more logical to assume that the ancient texts are more allegorical in nature, and that the Overlord is not really all-powerful. And while He is very powerful, He is only one god among many.”
Wulfric smiled at that and, responded, “You are looking at it in the wrong manner. You’re making the assumption that the Overlord is the one who causes every action to occur. There is nothing in the ancient texts to support the belief that everything happens because He wants it to happen, or that He makes it happen. Yes, He does allow these things to happen. But if He did not allow us to make these decisions, then any concept of our ability to choose for ourselves would go out the window. We could only do what He wanted us to do. Furthermore, although He may not want things to happen, the texts make it clear that He will use everything that occurs to the benefit of those who follow Him in the end.” Pausing to take a drink of milk, Wulfric continued, “The existence of wars and other unpleasantness do not exclude the possibility of one all-powerful and loving God. Rather, it shows the truth of the ancient texts where they talk about the fact that we should choose to follow the Overlord and His will. Just as we can choose to follow Him, we can choose not to follow Him.”
Shaking his head in frustration, Alex said, “See that just doesn’t make sense. How could an all-powerful and loving God allow things like two hundred years of constant warfare? All those people who died during that time period included many of the Overlord’s followers. It seems He could do a better job of protecting his own people, at least ensuring they didn’t die horribly, or even worse, ending up on the experimental table.”
Wulfric merely shook his head at that, “Nowhere do the ancient texts promise the servants of the Overlord an easy life or a pleasant death. In fact, it often promises the exact opposite. However, that being said, the texts also promise that the Overlord will be with us in everything. So yea, I am sure, at times those who were killed or worse during the wars wished they did not have to go through all of it. But on the flip side, for those who served the Overlord, they are now at home with Him. And all their trials and tribulations are over, whereas we still have to endure our own difficulties.”
Sierra spoke up to change the subject. Those two had been having the same debate on and off over the last three weeks, and she was more than a little tired of hearing it. Looking at everyone at the table, she asked, “So, who all has people coming over for visitation day?” Everyone at the table looked over at her, somewhat surprised that she was the one who asked that. They all knew that she had not exactly left her family under the best of circumstances.
Christopher suddenly started laughing, saying, “I guess Sierra is getting tired of listening to our two resident theologians go around the mulberry bush yet one more time.” That caused everyone to laugh, including Wulfric and Alex. Christopher had very quickly established his reputation as the jokester in the group. As such he seemed to take the job of keeping things light-hearted very seriously. The lunch hour was ending as all twelve trainees left the dining hall. As they headed across the courtyard and up the stairs to their rooms Christopher asked, “Hey you guys ready for the match this Saturday? I hear Brother Sanders team is pretty good.”
Heading into their bedroom Alex called out, “Good or not they are no match for Martin’s Furies.” This caused the other members of the team to shout out their agreement with that statement, and the whole attitude of the group was far more upbeat than it had been in the dining hall. Fifteen minutes later they were all assembled on the athletic fields, waiting for Brother Martin to tell them what they would be doing today.
Later that night, they all sat around in the communal living area discussing the day’s events and training. They were all of the general opinion that if Brother Martin didn’t kill them on the athletic fields; he was going to fry their brains in the classroom. Day after day of theology and doctrine training, along with physical training, made for a group of very tired trainees. “What I want to know is what on earth physical training has to do with being a historian and scribe?” said Jonathon.
Sierra responded, “That’s a good question. Personally I’d like to know why they seem to have a lot of advanced weaponry and the skill in how to use them.”
At that, Alex Boret spoke up, “That one I can answer, and it is really very simple. They have a division called The King’s Guard. They are responsible for protecting the chapterhouses, shipping, and everything else belonging to the White Falcons. Apparently their training is good enough to rival the Royal Guards of Terra, The Black Cloaks of the Sirius Federation, the Highlanders of Nordwind, or the Shadow Wolves.” At the mention of the Shadow Wolves, everyone shivered. They were the most feared group of warriors ever to exist. They had been exterminated over three thousand years ago in a brutal war, or so everyone thought. However, there had been rumors in the last six years of sightings of Shadow Wolf warriors and ships.
Perrin, who had been doing some homework, looked over at Alex Boret and asked him, “Now, how in darkspace do you know so much about them? None of us had even heard of the Kings Guard before the beginning of this week when they started telling us about the various divisions of the Order.”
At that Alex just shrugged his shoulders, saying, “My father was a member of the King’s Guard, so I grew up around them.”
Suddenly Bethany spoke up in her rather quiet voice, saying, “Well, personally they frighten me. They never smile or talk to anyone not in the King’s Guard. They just walk around armed to the teeth looking like they want to shoot anything that moves.” This comment caused everyone to stop talking and stare in Bethany. Mostly because she was very soft-spoken; but, also because she didn’t talk much, and so such a long comment was rather surprising.
Sierra was about to comment on that fact when Brother Martin walked in holding his favorite cane. He told them, “Curfew is in thirty minutes. I suggest you all get to your rooms and turn in for the night.”
As they all got up and began heading towards their rooms, Alex whispered over to Benjamin, “Well, it looks like the Brother is back in form.” Just as Benjamin was beginning to smile, there came a loud ‘whap.’ Alex suddenly winced as Martin’s cane smacked into his shoulder. Smiling rather sardonically, Brother Martin said, “When will you learn not to talk back or make snide comments, especially when I am standing right behind you?” Alex just glared at him, a move which earned him a ‘whap’ on the other shoulder. Staggering back, he just turned around and stalked into his room. He was really wishing he could find a way to get back at Brother Martin.
The following day, in the skies above the planet Calos II, there were suddenly twenty-eight more warships than before. For the Dieron Federation, this was a rather large gathering of warships. The Federation only had four battle groups, and they were very rarely fully assembled in one place. The fact that Admiral Piter had gathered the entire fourth battle group showed just how seriously they took this pirate threat. As the briefings and preparation for a prolonged space campaign were going on in the dockyards above Calos; events were also occurring on the surface of the planet, most notably within the chambers of Father Michelson where a youthful man with a face that looked pleasant enough but gave off the appearance of extreme evil was sitting in a chair talking to one of his subordinates. “You are to take your six ships to the following coordinates and prepare for another raid.” A grainy voice crackled back over the system, “As you command my lord, but if I may ask…” Commander Tumak – for that was the man sitting in the father’s office -- suddenly responded, “You may not, Prelate. You are simply to do as commanded. Just know this raid will advance the Masters cause more than any other raid to date.” With that he cut off the commlink, and spinning around he said, “Now, Father Michelson, you get to do something you will greatly enjoy. You are to send this message to Admiral Piter and his battle group; in turn, they will go to these coordinates and destroy the pirates.”
Handing Father Michelson the data stick, he said, “Well, run along. You get to arrange the death of around eight thousand marines and sailors of the Redband.” As the Father disappeared down the hallway toward the communication room, the aide turned and looked at his Commander quizzically. But before he could ask anything, Tumak said, “We cannot finish the conquest of this planet until the ships currently in orbit are gone. They will not leave until the pirates are destroyed. Six ships, which are well- armed, will provide them with their pirates. They will destroy them and then leave one or two days later. The ships and men can be replaced easily, and this will enable us to fulfill the Master’s commands.” With that explanation, his aide simply nodded and stepped back. Commander Tumak smiled and said, “Do not worry, once all the White Falcons are assembled here in this chapterhouse, there will be enough killing to sate even your bloodlust.” At that, the aide simply smiled and seemed to relish the thought of the coming fight.
Admiral Piter and his command staff were listening to Captain Steddard give a briefing on the situation in this section of the darkspace border. When a young man dressed in the uniform of an ensign burst in on the briefing. “Sir, we just got a communiqué from a Father Michelson of the White Falcons. He says that he has received information that the pirate fleet is located in the Gartax system.” At that piece of news, Admiral Piter looked over at Captain Steddard and asked, “What do you think? Is the Father reliable? Is the information good?” For minutes Captain Steddard just stood there considering the information. Finally he spoke up, saying, “In the past, the Father has always proven reliable and a friend of the Federation. So I see no reason not to trust him. The location is somewhat unusual, but if they have a good pilot then it would make sense.” Admiral Piter looked closely at him for a few seconds. But before he could speak, a short, somewhat pudgy captain asked what he meant by “if they have a good pilot.”
Argus smiled and explained how the system is full of strange gravitational eddies and currents along with a lot of asteroids. However, if they have a pilot who is exceptionally good, they can use the oddities of the system to their advantage and not just crash and burn. The pudgy captain just harrumphed. However, Admiral Piter sat there thinking for a minute and then came to his decision. “Get your ships ready, gentlemen. We leave in one hour.” Looking over at Captain Steddard, he motioned for him to wait behind. Once everyone else had left, Admiral Piter turned to Captain Steddard and said, “Something does not seem quite right here. You have been here for over a month and haven’t been able to catch sight or sound of the pirates. We arrive here and within a day we find their hiding place? I want you to remain here and keep an eye out for anything unusual.” Argus Steddard looked somewhat disappointed at being ordered away from the fight, but acknowledged the orders and headed back to his ship. Sitting at his command console, he watched as the warships of the fourth battle group cruised out of the docks and headed towards combat.
Ten hours later the warships of the fourth battle group arrived at the Gartax system and immediately picked up the signals of the six pirate warships. Ordering his ships into a standard battle formation, Admiral Piter watched the screen in a mixture of worry, shock, and confusion. For starters, he could not figure out how the pirates managed to get six ships that each had enough firepower to take on a ship of the line. Secondly, even with six very large vessels, they did not have much chance of winning against an entire battle group. So why were they closing in to attack instead of running away like most pirates would when confronted by the navy? Finally, why in darkspace were they here and why had Captain Steddard not been able to find them? Pushing these thoughts to the back of his mind, he punched the communication button and sent the following orders. “Captain Pollux, take command of the left wing. Captain Andreas, take command of the right wing. I will command the center. Sweep in and flank their outermost ships, then curve in, encircle all of them, and we will destroy them.” A chorus of “Aye Ayes” rang back through the comm channel, and, launching their fighters, they moved in to destroy the pirate ships.
That was about as far as the plan got because suddenly, all six pirate ships shot forward at a speed that few ships their size could match. Breaking into two wings of three ships each, they zoomed in and amongst the battle formation, blasting broadsides into the Dieron warships. A combat sloop happened to catch two broadsides at the same time and was now drifting aimlessly through space, the bodies of the crew trailing behind the shattered hull. An asteroid slammed into the remains of the hull, and it disintegrated into oblivion with the remaining bodies of the crew floating away into gravitational eddies. The remaining twenty- seven warships broke formation, and, turning around, they went after the enemy’s ships. Splitting into six groups each one led by a ship of the line, they pursued the pirate ships. The Dieron sailors and marines had their blood up now and wanted revenge. Losing a ship in honorable combat was one thing. But pirates weren’t honorable, and how on earth could such large ships move so fast? No, it just wasn’t right, and they wanted revenge.
The remaining ships opened fire with their forward batteries. The six pirate vessels turned around and, screaming back towards the naval craft, returned fire. The space between the warships was suddenly filled with searing plasma and laser bolts, missiles, high velocity shells, and explosive rounds, some of which missed their targets and sailed harmlessly into space. Others, however, impacted fully into the rapidly closing forces, and bits of armor melted, boiled, buckled, or flew off the warships. The whole area had become very crowded with bits of ship floating everywhere, and fighters darting between debris and spacecraft alike.
Admiral Piter stood on the bridge of his flagship, closing in on the biggest of the enemy ships when a lucky shell slammed into the outer armor of the bridge. On some of the smaller ships that blow might have been fatal. But the Grey Hawk was a Devastator class battleship and just seemed to shrug the blow off. The Dieron flagship cruised up on the right side of the enemy command vessel, while a Fury class Destroyer called Invictus cruised up on the left side. At the same time, both ships unleashed a full broadside on the enemy warship. Missiles, slugs, shells, plasma bolts, and laser beams slammed into both sides of the enemy battleship. The Blood Letter, the unfortunate recipient of this onslaught and about the same size as the Grey Hawk, returned fire at the same instant. However, it decided to concentrate the bulk of its firepower on the smaller of the two ships. This included two turrets located on top of the vessel, the like of which had never been seen before in civilized space.
They were, in fact, darkmatter rail guns developed by the Dark creatures during the closing days of the Great War all those millennia ago. These new guns raked the Invictus from stem to stern. The effect of these guns was both effective and terrifying to behold. The sailors and marines were literally boiled alive from overexposure to darkmatter, while the hull of the ship buckled, cracked, and broke apart. However, due to the sheer amount of firepower that was poured into the Blood Letter, it split into two parts. The engines drifted off toward darkspace while the rest of the ship drifted into the Gartax system with the bodies of the crew floating through space.
At the same time as the flagship battle was going on in the center, the two wings were also engaged. On the left flank, the two smallest enemy warships quite literally collided with Captain Pollux’s ship. The smallest ship slammed headlong into the bow of his ship, destroying the fighter bays and setting the whole front of the warship ablaze. While the second ship spiraled end- over- end, it raked through the top of the vessel and slammed into the bridge, ripping it off the top of the ship and sending it careening off wildly. The bulk of the spacecraft just sat there burning, when the fires reached the ammunition depot, causing; a massive explosion which ripped the ship apart. Meanwhile, the bridge slammed into an asteroid filled with highly explosive trondim gas which caused a shockwave that rocked another Fury class destroyer, crippling its engines.
On the right flank, two more Redband warships engaged full- force with eleven Dieron warships. The larger of the enemy ships dove between two war sloops and opened fire with all its guns. Leaving the outermost vessel in ruins, they performed a high velocity turn that should have torn her apart and sped off toward deep space. Meanwhile, the smaller of the two ships found itself caught between a Fury- class Destroyer and a Striker- class battleship which proceeded to fire all their guns into it. Before the crew could even fire once, the entire ship had been turned into scrap metal. The last remaining pirate ship, deciding it did not wish to take on the Grey Hawk by itself, spun around in an attempt to retreat. It did not get very far as the combined firepower of twenty- four warships poured into it, turning it into many tiny, glowing atoms.
Just like that, the battle was over: five of the six pirate ships were destroyed, and the one that had escaped was only a corvette- class attack ship and so wouldn’t be much threat by itself. With the battle over, Admiral Piter ordered all ships to report in. The final report was four ships destroyed and one crippled. The loss of four vessels was a heavy blow for the Fourth battle group especially since two of them were destroyers and one was a Striker- class battleship. Admiral Piter’s ship and the one remaining battleship linked up with the crippled destroyer in order to tow it back to Calos II. Not one of the remaining twenty- four battleships was without damage. Some of them, while still able to move under their own power, looked like a light breeze would knock them over.
Admiral Piter looked over at his senior helmsman, “How long will it take for the whole fleet to arrive safely at Calos II?” The response made him groan inwardly. It was going to take them twenty hours to get home safely. If that last enemy warship was to show up it could make quite a nuisance of itself; Admiral Piter knew he was in for a long journey. For the first two hours of the return journey, nothing happened. Then, halfway through the third hour a small blip appeared at extreme radar range.
Upon its appearance the Chief radar officer cried out, “Enemy vessel of the starboard bow. It’s the corvette Admiral.”
Walking over to the radar station the admiral stared at the screen for a few minutes, “Is it doing anything besides shadowing us?”
“No sir. It appears to just want to watch us.”
“Very well Lieutenant. Inform me of any change in the situation.”
Upon that response from his radar man Admiral Piter walked back to his chair; and, calling up the tactical screen on his stations computer, just watched the situation. For the next forty minutes nothing happened, and the Admiral began to hope that nothing would. He had no problem with the ship just watching them limp home; in fact, he hoped it would follow them all the way to Calos II, that way Captain Steddards frigate could finish it off.
After forty minutes the radar officer suddenly cried out, “Enemy craft incoming!” and leaping up slammed the alert button. Seconds later the whole ship shuddered as enemy fire slammed into the hull.
Looking up Admiral Piter thumbed the comm switch, “All ships remain in formation. Only fire if you can get a positive lock. We don’t want to hit our own side by accident. Weapons station, damage report if you please.”
“Sir, damage is minimal, half their shots went wide, and the few that hit caused no real damage. That ship has almost no heavy weapons.”
At that report the Admiral nodded his head and in response to several requests from other ships to pursue he thumbed his comm switch, “I repeat, all ships are to maintain formation. She is not much of a threat to us, only fire with a positive lock, otherwise ignore her.” He could tell his captains did not like his orders; but, the ships stayed in formation. For the next three hours the situation remained unchanged. Every ten to fifteen minutes the corvette would fly past the formation at high speed, firing its weapons and hitting almost nothing. After every pass one captain or another would request permission to pursue and Admiral Piter would repeat his order to keep formation.
After three hours of this it was clear that the men’s patience was wearing thin. Several warships had opened fire in an attempt to hit the fast moving vessel, and all the shots had gone wide. The corvette was too fast to be hit, and lacked any weapons large enough to damage the Dieron warships; even in the shape they were in. Admiral Piter watched as the corvette came streaking across the viewscreen opening fire as it came, and just as every other time it hit almost nothing. This time however, was too much for the captain of the Dieron corvette Swift Gull to take. Before anyone could say or do anything he powered up his ships engines and pursued the enemy craft, guns firing as she went. As the ship left formation Admiral Piter slammed his comm unit on crying out, “Swift Gull resume your position.” However, he was met by nothing but static; the captain had turned off his comm unit.
Helpless to do anything he just sat in his seat and with his command staff watched the events unfold. The Dieron warship shot after the enemy corvette all guns blazing, when the enemy performed a maneuver that made every helmsman in the battle group grimace in pain at what it must have done to the ships structure. It flipped itself over completely and flying back upside down opened fire with everything it had. The Admiral and others were completely astounded by the maneuver, but even more so by the apparent lack of guns on it. Everyone just watched as the two ships flew at each other firing away. Just before the two ships were to ram into each other the Swift Gull Veered heavily to the right, in order to avoid running into her opponent; expecting the other ship to veer left. However, to the amazement of all watching that is not what happened. The enemy corvette slammed nose first into the side of the Dieron vessel, for a few seconds the two ships just floated away, backwards and to the right with both engines still moving their respective ships. Suddenly, both ships blossomed into a bright orange fireball, moments later, all that could be seen was the wreckage of both ships.
For a few seconds Admiral Piter just stared at the screen, “Who were these people? No pirate I have ever heard of would do something like that. If they were that poorly armed they would have ran. Radar Station, any sign of life?”
The radar officer just shook his head, “No sir. Anyone who survived that collision was killed by the blast.”
“Very well. All ships, we continue back to Calos II. Any Captain who breaks formation will be arrested upon arrival.”
Upon confirmation of his orders Admiral Piter slumped back in his seat and watched as the remaining warships of the Fourth Battle Group limped home. They had completely destroyed the pirate force, but he was very uneasy. These pirates did not fight like pirates, nor should they have been able to maul his force the way they did. Picking up his stylus pad he quickly wrote a short report detailing what had happened. At the end he requested that all available forces be sent to the Dark Space border to prepare for invasion. He knew it would be ignored, after all nothing can live in Dark Space. Still, he had to send the request. This encounter made him uneasy, and with the way they fought he fully believed there were more forces waiting just out of sight. But, what could he do, without reinforcements they would be overrun in less than a day.