It was now eighteen hundred hours, and a very tired Father Michelson opened the door to his quarters. Walking in, he shut the door and moved towards his bar for a very much needed drink. Just as he reached the bar, he heard a voice that sounded like silken chocolate mixed with the venom of a black adder. This voice said, “Good evening, Father Superior Michelson. The Master requires your service and cooperation.” Spinning around, Father Michelson saw a man in red robes holding a darkmatter dagger in his left hand while placing a silver locking device on the door. Commander Tumak saw that he was being watched and said, “To insure we are not interrupted until our business is concluded.” Giving a smile that could make the most naïve person shiver with fear, he crossed the room to the drinks table and, pouring two drinks, handed one to the father and guided him over to a chair.
Once Michelson was seated, Tumak resumed his original seat and began speaking. “The Master requires that this planet be liberated from the oppressive rule of the White Falcons, and you will be the key to achieving that.” Michelson spoke up, saying, “Why do you need me at all? Surely you have enough troops to secure one planet?”
At that the commander started laughing. A more frightening sound Father Michelson could not think of. After a few seconds, Tumak stopped abruptly. He looked right at Michelson with eyes that could cut diamond. “The Master does not wish it to be known that he is returning yet, and so I have been ordered to take the planet quietly. You will do as I say and enable the peaceful and silent liberation of this planet!” His voice suddenly dropped so low Michelson could barely hear him, “Unless, of course, you wish for your superiors to ‘discover’ your extra-curricular activities?”
At that, the Father’s face grew very pale, as some of his activities would be enough to get him thrown in civil jail, even if the Order didn’t punish him themselves. Neither possibility was one he was particularly relished. With those thoughts running through his mind, he said in a voice that sounded as defeated as possible, “I will do as you command.”
“Most wise, Father Superior Michelson,” came the response in a tone that dripped with derision and scorn. Now that he had taken care of that matter, Commander Tumak began to outline what Michelson was to do, with a tone that was sickly sweet, “Do not worry, Father Michelson, you will not need to harm anyone, nor will you need to do much. All you need to do is arrange a private meeting for me with his Lordship, the Earl Zierck, Lord of the Skynar province. Secondly, you are to arrange for all the White Falcons on this planet to be at this chapterhouse in ten days’ time. When you have arranged the rendezvous, you are to contact me at this number.” Writing the contact information on a piece of paper, he placed it on the nightstand and, exiting the room the way he came in, left Father Michelson sitting in his chair.
Father Michelson sat in his chair for about twenty minutes without moving, just stewing in his thoughts and despair. The last thing he wanted to do was actually help the Redband. Sure, he had given them some information about transport times and so on, but he no more believed in this Master than he did in the Overlord. But arranging for them to take over a whole world? He knew that would cause bloodshed and discomfort for everyone, including himself, and so he really didn’t want to do anything. But he also knew he had no choice in the matter. These hyper-pirates knew enough about him to put him on the fast track to death row, and they would not hesitate to do so if he crossed them. He wished he knew how they had learned about his secret life; not even his superiors within the Order had ever been able to crack his cover. They had done it in less than a few months; he had no clue how they had done it but wished he knew. Oh well, he knew this train of thought was pointless. In the morning, he would arrange the meeting, and then he would have to come up with a good enough reason to assemble seven hundred monks and one hundred guardsmen at the main citadel.
Meanwhile, the Invincible had finished blowing what was left of the passenger liner into its component atoms, a job that had taken several hours despite the damage she had already taken. With the ship destroyed, Captain Steddard ordered his vessel to head back to Calos II so that he could report this troubling event to his superiors back on Altair. Arriving back at the Calos dockyards at about the same time as Commander Tumak was leaving the quarters of Father Michelson, he made a beeline for the airlocks and left the mooring and dock work to his executive officer. Entering his dockside office, Captain Steddard opened a channel with his superiors back on Altair and began to inform his immediate superior of what had happened. “Admiral Piter, I have some disturbing news. We responded to a distress call from a long-range passenger transport, and when we got there we found the ship had been crippled by military- grade heavy weapons and was drifting helplessly towards darkspace. On scanning the vessel, we registered thirty rankler life forms, but no other life forms at all. Sir, that ship had not left the Dieron Federation, so there should have been no way for there to be even one rankler, much less thirty, on board that vessel. Plus, since when did raiders get enough firepower to take out a long-range passenger liner?”
Admiral Piter just sat there for a few minutes thinking, and, then responded, “This is most disturbing news. Continue to monitor the situation but avoid any direct confrontation with the pirates. One frigate is not enough to take on a band of this size. I will be in-system within three weeks with the fourth battle group. Any pirate band this large is a clear threat to national security and it must be dealt with.” With that, Captain Steddard responded with a sharp salute and confirmed acknowledgement of his new orders. Admiral Piter returned the salute and then cut the communication line, signaling that the conversation was over.
The following morning, on Calos II, dawned depressingly dim and very dull, just like every other dawn on darkspace borderworlds. Sun’s on the darkspace border were very weak and did not lend themselves to impressive sunrises. The sun of the Calos system did not disappoint in this matter, with the morning sunlight flooding across the planet just like molasses in January. By ten in the morning, the sun had managed to push back almost all the vestiges of nightfall. So as his Lordship, the Earl of Skynar, Cyrril Zierck pulled up to the front entrance of the White Falcon chapterhouse, it was almost fifty-five degrees which was quite warm for a summer morning on Calos II. Earl Zierck stepped out of his luxury roller and began striding towards the entrance. He was a rather impressive individual; six and a half feet tall and built like a professional boxer. He had raven black hair that came down to his shoulders, and, in accordance with the current fashion trends of the Federation, it was tied back in a ponytail. His uniform was dark blue with silver trimmings and had been custom tailored in order to give him an imposing presence no matter the company he was in.
However, perhaps the most startling thing about his appearance was the fact that he was darkly tanned. On a planet like Calos II, having skin that was any darker than a vampire’s was a sign of great wealth. To be as tanned as Earl Zierck was gave proof of a lifestyle that was so luxurious as to border on the disgustingly opulent. On this particular morning, Lord Zierck was in a very bad mood. He did not appreciate being summoned to Father Michelson’s office like a truculent school boy who had just been caught playing a prank on the teacher. The only reason he had come at all was that, when living on a borderworld, it was most unwise to alienate the White Falcons as they held considerable sway over the common masses. So here he was at ten am, walking up the steps into the main building of the Falcon chapterhouse, instead of having his daily sun treatment, and he was not happy about it at all.
Striding through the entrance of the Falcons’ main monastery, his boots made a dull thud on the stone floor of the courtyard, Earl Zierck was met by a young novice of the Order. After introducing himself, Novice Gellen began leading him towards the private quarters of Father Michelson. Lord Zierck frowned; not only had he been summoned here, but they had the audacity to assign an alien as his escort. Oh, he was human enough, but judging from his accent and Asian features, he was most likely from the Tien – Shen Alliance, which as far as he was concerned made him an alien. No, the Earl was not in a good mood. First they had helped his daughter run away and left him to explain why the marriage with Michael Iris, the eldest son of Baron Iris, had to be cancelled. That had made him the laughingstock of the nobility. After having taken out his anger on the hapless maidservant, whom Sierra had left behind, he had what was left of her body shipped back to her parents. After all he was not completely without a heart, and he thought they might like to bury the remains of their daughter. Now, to add insult to that injury, they had summoned him here, throwing off his entire schedule for the day starting with his tanning treatment. They didn’t even have the decency to give him a Dieronite for a guide. While these thoughts were going through the Earl’s head, they had walked the short distance to the Father’s private chambers, and, upon entering the room, he was greeted with a sight that was most unexpected.
To start with, the room was far more opulent than anything Earl Zierck had ever seen which, considering his lifestyle, was saying quite a lot. And for it to be the private quarters of a White Falcon Father made it even more shocking. As surprising as the room itself was, the occupants of the room were even more shocking. Situated along the back wall were six men, all wearing identical red robes, who were equipped with very lethal-looking assault rifles, and energy swords. Sitting in a rather comfortable-looking chair was Father Michelson himself, looking rather depressed and, standing beside him, was another man in red but, equipped only with a crystalline-powered scimitar. Looking directly at the Earl, Father Michelson said in a voice that conveyed more regret than the Earl had ever heard before, “I am truly sorry, my Lord. I had no choice.”
At that statement, the man beside him started to laugh, a sound which sent a chill down Cyrril’s spine, and said, “The Father is most correct, he did not have much choice in the matter. However, do not despair, my Lord, for we are your friends. We shall free you from the control of these oppressive monks and perhaps even get your daughter back. In return, all you have to do is swear fealty to the Master and give us your planet.”
The Earl was not a religious man, but even he knew the stories of the Master and his servants. Barking out a short derisive laugh, he drew his sword and said defiantly, “It will be a warm day in darkspace before I surrender to the likes of you.”
At that the man in red simply laughed, saying in a voice low with menace, “Bold words, my Lord, but pointless. The planet is already ours; I am merely giving you a chance to retain your position and at least nominal control over your holdings, under the wise and kind guidance of a servant of the Master, of course.”
Still brandishing his sword, Zierck responded, “You control nothing but a decadent Father, and now I am leaving.” Before he could finish that statement, the man in red raised his hand. Suddenly four rifles were leveled at him with one more placed in the small of his back. The sixth red soldier walked over and, taking the sword from him, handed it to Commander Tumak.
Smiling coldly at the Earl, he said, “I give you one last chance to surrender to the Master of your own accord, or we will make you more pliable. Rest assured, my Lord, you will not leave this room without agreeing to our terms. However, it would be far more pleasant for you if you were our willing partner.”
Realizing that he was totally beaten and without any hope, his Lordship, the Earl of Skynar, surrendered Calos II to Commander Tumak. His purpose achieved, Commander Tumak suddenly smiled and, handing the sword back to him, said, “Do not be so downcast, my Lord. You shall find service to the Master far more rewarding than subjugation by these monks ever was. And do not worry; we shall get your prodigal daughter back for you.” With that Commander Tumak waved his hand, and a young man dressed in black walked over, “Allow me to introduce your new assistant, my Lord. He shall instruct you in service to the Master and ensure that you do not accidentally do anything you should not do.”
With a start, Zierck realized it was the same young man who had escorted him from the gate to the quarters. Sheathing his sword, he looked at Commander Tumak, saying, “And what do you want me to do?”
Tumak smiled and said, “Nothing too drastic. Simply get rid of that frigate in orbit around this planet.”
Shaking his head, Earl Zierck responded, “I cannot do that. I have no authority over them, and, due to increased attacks on shipping, Admiral Piter will arrive in a few weeks, with the fourth battle group. They will not leave until the pirates are destroyed.” Standing there silently for a few minutes, Commander Tumak thought about this.
Then he said, “Well then, we shall have to give them the pirates. For the plan cannot continue until that frigate is gone.” With that he dismissed Earl Zierck and, after the earl left, began laying plans with his aide for the destruction of the ‘pirates’.