Written by Brandon “Avatarr” Alspaugh

: “ Apocrypha ”


Apocrypha - Writings of doubtful authenticity, not accepted as resulting
from revelation or true happenings. Not genuine; spurious; counterfeit.

Insanity passed freely through the mind of one Thomas Aquinas, named so for the self-important spokesman of the Catholic Church some eight hundred years previous. This charlatan's namesake was little better than his predecessor; he was highly suggestible, but never open to suggestion. He had heard one, and that one was quite enough, thank you very much.

His aircar, specially outfitted to handle planets of air pressures between 2.4-8.0 Earth standard, glistened in the moonlight; it would do so for the remaining eighty-nine days of the planet's nighttime. It skimmed noiselessly towards the horizon, his "Salvation or Bust" bumper sticker a garish scar on the otherwise pristine machine.

As the Nephilim attacked, Thomas Aquinas rode the night-air towards the purple peaks of Obsidian IV, his mission burning clear in his mind.

Save the universe.

* * *

Blood glistened down the High Priestesses coarse fur, its red heat seeping into her nose and mouth. Such was her ecstasy that she could barely restrain herself from crying out; such would not be appropriate for the ritual. The Kilrathi warriors that she had gathered about her, expatriates and vagabonds from the old Eighth Empire, offered mournful prayers and fevered chants, all the while cutting deeper into their arms to offer their blood as libation. The priestess drank greedily of their offerings, and said silent prayers to Sivar to deliver them thus.

Around her shadows played on the walls of the temple in unique, mystical patterns. They danced and seemingly detached from their owners, their obscene postures and positions giving them a life all their own. The statues to Sivar arranged on pillars against the wall held fast to these dark mirrors of the soul, graciously accepting their sacrifice.

Long had it been since the days of Thrakhath, when the priestesses were little more than religious apologists for Thrakhath's war against the humans. They had risen far, but had no delusions as to how they had gotten there. Through the fever pitch of the religious upheaval following the destruction of Kilrah and arrival of the Mak'threk, the Dark Empire. The priestess raised her head skyward, the blood now seeping into her eyes, her feral grin exciting the male Kilrathi to no end. Her muscles swam like fish under her skin. Her eyes glittered with agonizing love. Many growled in triumph, others snarled their delight; a positive sign from priestess in commune with Sivar was a good omen towards future battle.

No, they had no delusions at all. Their power was a mythical one; a towering monolith of deception, exploitation, half-truths and exaggeration. Born of a prophet's crazed etchings, the Kilrathi were now engaged in what they believed was the fundamental battle of the universe. Because of a prophet. There are only two problems with prophets. They appear at the most inconvenient times.

And they are cursed to always tell the truth.

The ritual reaches its peak, her guttural orgasmic cries echoing throughout the temple. Deep within her, however, the priestess holds true to the one ultimate goal that all of her sisters share.

Save themselves.

* * *

New Capeton was a city of proud heritage; capital and largest settlement in the entire Obsidian System, home of the galactically famous Twitty Carmichael, and sight of the coming religious epiphany that could very well knock an entire quadrant of space on its ass.

One might also be quick to point out that you'd have to be crazy to live on a world as worthless as this one. Obsidian IV was a ribbon world; half of it eternally scorched by the system's star, the other in permanent shadow, with a thin area of habitability separating the two.

People have gone to far further extremes to avoid salesman and annoying neighbors. Believe me.

Obsidan IV is a home for a unique offshoot of Davidians; those who believe that the ultimate goal of the human race was to aspire to the heights reached by the ancient Jewish king, and furthermore, reject the remainder of the Torah, because it was, in the words of one of their founders, "too soft on heathens."

These are the kind of guys, to put it bluntly, who wonder why you would bother to cut off someone's head when you could start at the toes and work your way up.

The everyday monotony of the settlement is broken by the sound of the groundcar, and its release of a haggard man in red robes (red symbolizing the blood of David). His eyes were rimmed and gummy, and his step was unsure. Nevertheless, there was a queerness about him, a strange manner that made him immediately a focal point of attention.

Those not occupied with other matters rushed out immediately to greet their prodigal. As they gathered about him, he raised his hands for silence, then fixed the gathering with a hard, piercing stare.

"I have had a vision," he said simply.

And the gathering was silent.

"It is a vision of darkness; a vision of despair. I have seen great metallic war machines bursting in the silence of space; I have seen dark gods returned to reclaim their Olympus from those who would aspire to its towering peaks. But on a completely unrelated note, I have seen the coming enemy. I know them for what they truly are."

A precocious young child, too young to know better but too old not to understand, asked, "What are they, Thomas?"

Thomas smiled, glancing among his brethren, savoring the brief moment of suspense, and the sheer joy the knowledge gave him.

"Children," he replied, chuckling to himself. "The great enemy that besieges the galaxy are one large gathering of inconsequential nothing. Their efforts will come to naught, as their existence and aspirations already have."

"Who are they, Thomas?"

Thomas smiled saccharine, and raised his hands. "They are castoffs from the ivory towers of the gods. They are imperfect warriors who have failed in fulfilling the very sum essence of their existence. They are the nfl, the fallen ones, the Nephilem, who carry with them the shame of defeat and disgrace. They are doom and the doomed. We must prepare our Lord's last line of defense against them."

And the Davidians, prepared as they always have been, slowly broke away and went to work.

It would be a long winter.

No, really. Winter lasts twenty-eight months on Obsidian IV.

* * *

Perfect cohesive light struck home like the avenging arrow of Paris, shattering the screeching craft's starboard hull, the eggshell armor giving premature birth to a creature not yet ready to be born into the fiery cold of deep space. The Dralthi IV paused only briefly to scan for an ejectee, then wheeled about sharply…

… only to see his death in the face of an incoming three-pronged attack from the enemy.

War is glorious. Brave soldiers, routinely sacrificing and saving lives in equal measure, tearing and creating the future. And this, the Tr'thrak, the Great War… it glorifies the very concept of glory.

The Sivar cultists fight a desperate, losing war… their surprise arrival in the Nephele System cut tragically short when the Enemy dispatched their refitted cruiser with the ease of dismissing an irritable child. Terrans, desperate to prove their worth, assault the enemy… but any help they might provide will come far too late.

Dr'thak nar Z'tihns, eighth of his line to bear that proud honorific, is a veteran pilot from the Victory Over Kabla Meth. He and his family have been warriors since before the age of Xag, but have not, like many, lost sight of the ultimate duty of any warrior. To prepare he and his for the Great War against the Great Darkness, the Mak'threk legions that would sweep the galaxy and storm the gates of Sivar's stronghold.

He smiles viciously as a pair of his Pilum Friend or Foe missiles strike an enemy heavy fighter, its shell-shape crumpling in on itself, like a pitiful ra'shud that curls to hide from its hunter. Letting loose a primal snarl of triumph, he banked his Vaktoth sharply, narrowly avoiding a dual blast of unknown weaponry that vaporized the nothingness he left in his wake.

The days after the Fall of Kilrah were not good ones… many brave Kilrathi warriors that had days before remained true to the righteousness of battle could be found cowering among their sleeping mats like frightened cublings. The doctors took them, but they knew too little.

All they truly knew was that prophecy had damned them, and that Sivar had deserted the Race.

Dr'thak remembers his own days spent in fear and confusion. The death of Kilrath was inevitable, but their submission to the humans was a sign of great desertion by the War Goddess. How foolish we were.

Outside, another two Kilrathi die, one ramming an enemy corvette, causing moderate damage to the craft and ensuring kabaka for the warrior lost. Dr'thak added a pair of his Dart Dumbfires to the mix, and the corvette blossomed unto death.

The prophecy…

The problem with prophecy is that some are self-fulfilling, while others require a good deal of help. And if prophecy fails, what do you do? Do you surrender, knowing that the plans of your betters have failed you, and surrender yourself to the Kn'thrak? Or do you rise, purify, forge a new path to salvation, beyond prophecy; decide your own destiny?

Dr'thak's transition had been relatively simple. Little had come to him in his life that he had not earned. The Victory Over Kabla Meth had earned him a commendation and his own squadron, and he was credited with being the pilot who was able to critically injure the Heart of the Tiger after destroying his fighter over Earth; over Nak'tara.

Dr'thak felt shamed by the commendation… his had been one of but a thousand claws that had beset the enemy. But shame, like hopelessness, like fear, had been swallowed by purpose.

Dr'thak corkscrewed sharply, activating the two mines buried deep within the chassis of his outdated war machine. Before him lay the enemy's C&C ship, a small ship for a small contingent of inconsequential picket defenses.

The Light versus the Dark, as green globules of plasma burst around him, his delicate touch at the controls managing to avoid all but the most glancing of impacts.

His squadron was doomed, he himself could not retreat. To the warrior after me, he thought, I leave the honor of all victories to come. May they prove more fortunate in battle than I.

The Darkness grew all the more encompassing… he could no longer see the stars, only his target.

The Darkness, the Destiny, the Blood.

Dr'thak began firing wildly, his alarms chiming and intentional reactor overload reaching critical.

The Darkness claimed him.

The Light…

* * *

Destiny is an imperfect god at best. It is very, very good at taking the credit, but very, very poor at cleaning up its own mess.

Thomas Aquinas continued muttering to himself as he made his way to the small spaceport, his hand-picked entourage following closely behind. They knew what was to be done; what had to be done, despite the cost to themselves. Rode the six hundred indeed. What of an entire planet?

For Thomas' vision had been twofold; revelation and orders.

Revelation: The Nephilim were an impotent threat.

Orders: Spread the word.



“ Apocrypha ”


Numbers 13:33 - "And there we saw the Nephilem (the sons of Anak,
who come from the Nephilem); and we seemed to ourselves like
grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them."

Absinthe Starbase
The Junction System, Humboldt Quadrant, Gemini Sector

Pedro Trajo coughed blood as he swung around to strike one of his assailants, the nerve-stick in his left hand paralyzing the attacker. The others, seeing the weapon, backed off slightly, and for a second Pedro thought he might have been able to bluff his way out of a particularly painful situation.

His reprieve, however, lasted but a few seconds as one of the men produced a small laser carbine. Pedro breathed out hard, his hands playing against the edges of the bulkhead he was leaning against to see if there was something he could shield himself with.

Then, with a sigh of resignation, he raised his hands.

The gang smiled roughly. One of them gestured silently for Trajo to drop his stick.

Trajo smiled himself, and tossed the nerve-stick in the air.

What happened next seemed, to the men at least, to happen in slow motion. The nerve-stick’s battery pack exploded, creating a blinding flash and spraying the area in carbonic acid. With a yell, Pedro snap-kicked the gunman in the gut, wheeling about to slam his elbow into a second man’s jaw.

Pedro, being the sensible man we all know him to be, then took off in a mad dash.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, he thought to himself. The Mafia wasn’t very powerful on Absinthe, but they were still around, and he had just been forced to sucker-punch the friggin’ nephew of Angelo Rassano.

And on top of it all, his fucking Brilliance adrenaline rush was wearing off. Stopping several times to grasp his tearing sides, Pedro finally reached his destination, the quarters of one Alicia Flagherty. Pausing only to slide in his variable key card (a necessity for illegal lodgings here on Absinthe), he fell gasping through the doorway, the pain of his beating finally beginning to register along his Brilliance-numbed nerves. Alicia squeaked in surprise at the bloody visage that marred Pedro’s baby features.

“Kinda… hurts, babe,” he gasped weakly.

And then the welcomed darkness enveloped him.

* * *

Sara Mahalo walked crisply through the public area of Absinthe, wrinkling her nose at the distinct aroma; a rather putrid musk that seemed to come from the deck plates themselves.

“Ah, Absinthe… one of the great economic centers of Gemini. Home to the wayward, bastion of opportunity.”

With a disdainful glance, she ran one of her black-gloved fingers along a viewport. “What a dump.”

She paused to consider her befouled finger. “The dust appears to be developing sentience.”

“Sorry you don’t approve,” said a voice from behind her. Sara turned around sharply, her hand instinctively flying to the concealed weapon between her breasts, but visibly relaxed when she saw that it was Gillian Henderson.

“That wouldn’t be dangerous there, right?” Gillian asked, gesturing towards Sara’s cleavage.

Sara laughed, “Depends on how I’m using them, I guess.” Gillian smiled thinly in return; these two were not truly friends, but they could talk without worrying about conflicting interests, and that in and of itself was something to be appreciated out here.

“The place is actually a hell of a lot better than it was the last time you were here,” Gillian offered, noting the Starbucks to her left. Sara sniffed in superior disinterest.

“Honestly. The place is a fucking hole. I’m surprised Rees hasn’t been arrested for recreating Gomorrah.”

“Plenty of time for that. Buy you a drink?”

“My dear,” Sara said, following Gillian to the bar she pointed out, “while I doubt the brandy this place offers has ever been in the same sector as real alcohol, it would be quite uncouth to refuse such hospitality.”

Gillian smiled and signaled an order of two Magellianic Brandys towards the bartender.

Sara gestured towards a gathering at the far end of the public area. “Look at that. Religious extremists, I’d say. What are they, Henderson? Messianics? Neo-Mandarins? Tolwynites?”

Henderson gave the gathering a hard stare. “Beats the hell out of me. They all start to look the same after a while. But according to the sign, the orator, at least, is a Nephilite of some kind.”

“Oh,” Sara acknowledged. In her travels, she had met a hell of a lot of fanatics, human, Kilrathi, even a few Varni once. The Nephilites were one of the few religious cults that was composed of humans and Kilrathi; a group that looked upon the Nephilim as gods come to cleanse the galaxy.

“Honestly, if Rees can’t keep up standards any better than that, this station will fly apart at the seams.”

“No argument here. Want me to run him off?”

“That would be ever so kind, but unnecessary. I need to retire to my lodgings. Galaxy knows it will be far easier to dislike this drink when his rantings are not bruising my ears.”

Henderson stood and walked towards the platform, the man’s voice becoming clearer. He was an older man, perhaps fifty, with long hair flailing about as he gestured wildly, his blistered skin indicative of a planet with lower solar exposure than the Absinthe standard UV distribution.

“… nfl, meaning the fallen. But ask yourselves, my brethren, from whence have they fallen?"

Oh great. He wasn’t just a Nephilite, he was a weird offshoot. The only thing worse than the real cults were the cults started by people who thought the others weren’t extreme enough.

She had heard of them from third-hand accounts… a lonely, pretty girl can get to talking to just about anybody, including swarthy mercenaries who only made contact with other people just long enough to cheat or kill them. But god, some of them were so…!

Her brother, Andreas, a pain-in-the-ass by birthright and priest by choice, had laughed when she had brought up the idea of Neo-Toranical cults springing up because of the connotations of the word “Nephilim" or "Nephilem."

“Nephilim,” he had said, his long, dark auburn hair not quite hiding his white collar, “is a creative piece of fluff Confed cooked up to name the enemy. It’s not meant to be taken literally or seriously.”

Yeah, whatever, Andreas. Tell that to this guy.

“… the blind lead the blind. Do you think the Confederation or the Border Worlds have any clue as to what we’re facing? We fight shadow-gods, ignoring the true threat that must inevitably nip at their heels! A Nephilim must have a Seraphem!”

Gillian shook her head in dismay, deciding that running off this particular nut was not worth the hassle… he’d probably pull out his mutant demon monkey and have it bite off her toenails.

* * *

Pedro’s eyes half-opened. He first noticed the unfamiliar ceiling, and then confirmed that he was in fact not wearing a shirt.

“Fuck…” he muttered. If he had gotten picked up by a gripper or one of the sex-fiend gangs, maybe it was best he slit his throat with that cute bit of crystal on the side…

The crystal. A birthday present he'd given to...

Then he realized where he was.

“Good morning starshine,” said a hard voice to his left. He rolled over with some difficulty, favoring the rather large and expansive bruises on his left ribcage. Standing there was his angel of deliverance, Alicia.

Damn, where do women learn that look, he wondered. He felt his soul chill and then frost.

“I figured, since you’ve already ruined my carpet, you might as well ruin my bed too, you clicking moron.” Alicia said harshly, then took a small rag and lightly mopped some blood from his lip.

“Now,” she continued, “since I’ve already sacrificed a good spread of synth-satin, you want to tell me what happened?”

Pedro attempted to sit up, but a sharp tearing sensation convinced him of the benefits of a strictly horizontal existence.

“Not particularly,” Pedro hissed through clenched teeth, testing his various muscles. He could feel the Brilliance kicking back in. In a few minutes…

“Fine,” Alicia responded, dumping an icepack unceremoniously onto Pedro’s naked chest. Pedro winced. “I’ll just have to let Latisha know. She’s wonderful at finding things out… but then, you know that, don’t you?”


“Not... much to tell, pretty lady,” Pedro finally said, shuddering a bit at the mention of the Security Chief’s interrogation rooms, “Rassano’s been trying to get his hands on some Nephilim DNA. When I found out, he sent a few boys over to… persuade me not to sell that information.”

“Nephilim DNA?” Alicia echoed, looking puzzled. “Why? His ant farm just not cutting it anymore?”

Pedro grinned. Alicia’s eyes always crinkled in that ever-adorable way whenever she got sarcastic. “Something like that. Remember when the Kilrathi recreational drugs came on the market?”

Alicia nodded.

“Well, they were based on rhodopsin-manipulation and hallucinatory effects. It all stemmed from their fascination with Gotherian crystal… turns out the unique light distribution through one of those stimulated their endorphin and phenylethylnine production. Gave them a natural high. Rassano’s determined to provide the same service to the Nephilim.”

“That’s stupidity wrapped in arrogance wrapped in bacon.”

Pedro nodded. “Maybe, but in the years to come, we’re going to have more and more contact with those bugs, and with contact comes trade. My take is Rassano’s going to make out pretty well.”

“Now, if you don’t mind…” he began, forcing himself to sit up as he reached for his shirt.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Alicia said sharply. “You’re not going anywhere. Don’t push yourself and you might actually be more man than bruise soon.” She reached out and grasped his left arm.

Pedro looked down at her hand and did his best attempt at a roguish grin. “Funny… seems like we’ve changed roles. Usually it’s me trying to get you into bed.”

“Cute, Pedro, but don’t think for a minute you’re…” but she didn’t finish that sentence, as he swung his legs and stood up, her hand still resting on his arm.

“See? Perfectly fine, pretty lady.”

“That damned Brilliance. Don’t let dead nerve-endings fool you, Pedro. You’re still a walking mosquito buffet.”

“Me? Hell no,” he replied, pulling Alicia closer to him.

“Pedro,” Alicia whispered, looking up at him, “don’t.”

Pedro leaned in and lightly kissed her, his blood firing through his heart at least triple the normal speed. He felt her shaking. Her lips tasted of cream.

“Bastard,” Alicia hissed, “you know how bad we are together.”

Pedro smiled regretfully, then pulled away.

“Yeah… I do. Thanks for the TLC, pretty lady,” he said as he made his way to the door.

“You’re… dammit, you’re gonna clicking kill yourself, you idiot! You know that, right?!” she yelled at him.

“No problem,” he said, turning around and meeting her level gaze.

“Beep beep.”

Alicia’s stern glare relaxed a bit, and she regretfully smiled lightly in return.

“Zip bang.”

* * *

Absinthe is, for all intents and purposes, a self-contained city. As such, it has its upper-scale districts, its high-class chains, its well-dressed populace…

And then, there’re the other places, full of the other people.

Maintenance Corridor C-5 was the site of what could be one of the most momentous transactions in human history. Wouldn’t it be interesting if everything could talk? What would it all say?

Well, actually, that wouldn’t be so good. Every time a light bulb burned out, it would be like a death in the family…

“Yardmaster Kochis,” was one of the many low-pitched guttural sounds that played along the narrow, curved walls. Thomas Aquinas examined data crystal. “He’s your “go-to” guy for stuff like this. You wanna go joyriding in a Hellcat V? He’s the guy to make sure one falls out of mothballs for ya.”

“Excellent. I assume the payment was in order?”

“Oh, of course. But the Boss would like to know what a crazy-haired nut like you wants with fighters,” Vincent Marcazzo said, his pleasant grin soft. Menacingly soft.

Thomas answered quickly, “Study. His Grace pays me greatly in spirit, but very little in hard currency. We sell retroactive evaluative information to Confed for credits. Research-for-hire is a great cost-cutting measure.”

Vincent nodded. “Sounds good. You understand, I gotta watch out for the Boss’s interests. We keep Kochis on tap in case a privateer needs an “upgrade” on his engine or something like that, y’know. Everything’s on that crystal… contact channel, his rates, what’s available, the works…”

Thomas nodded, half-listening, as he played the data crystal over in his hands. The means to the deliverance of the galaxy, held in small hands within an even smaller box. He felt a childish giggle vibrating deeply in his lungs.

“My thanks, good sir,” Thomas replied plainly.

Vincent nodded. “Our pleasure. Be sure to keep us posted on your research. The Rassano’s provide many… intangible services.”

Thomas called back his agreement as he made his way down the corridor, towards the spaceport. Too much time had been wasted here already. He had been reduced to dealing with a common hoodlum, but it had achieved him what he had sought.

Activating his personal comm-pad, he punched in a simple message. The comm-terminal would route through the station’s array, then be broadcast. And it was then, only then, that it would begin.

The message read:


Fallen angels. But from whence had they fallen?

And whom would they take with them?


: “ Apocrypha ”


"And the Nephilem tore into the world, screaming their pain for all to hear."
- The Apocrypha, 11:14

Archimedes once stared defiantly at Mount Olympus and said, “Give me a lever big enough, and I shall move the world.”

The TCS Mistral Sea is as large as the inner-city area of Manhattan. It houses thousands of people, hundreds of fighters, and millions of hopes. It carries in tow one of the single largest concentrations of firepower that our portion of the galaxy has ever seen.

Oh, it’s big enough, Archie. Never fear.

The Mistral Sea was given the relatively mundane task of securing against future Nephilim incursion. To many, it seemed an exercise in futility; wherever they were from, they required wormholes of unknown design and science to get here, and wormholes tend to brighten one’s night sky a touch. We’d see them long before they came through.

There’s only one small problem with that theory, of course.

How the hell do the wormholes get here in the first place?

Lieutenant Commander Alan Shieh, Chief of Intelligence for the Mistral Sea, has been turning that problem over and over in his mind for months. Confed had no clue. TCIS had no clue. His cat had no clue.

And, dammit, he wasn’t any better off.

Coordinating this massive readiness operation was grating on his last nerve. It was like trying to juggle a thousand eggs with one hand, blindfolded, with razor blades for fucking fingers.

Shieh was a busy man… an important man. His hair, already whitening well before his fortieth birthday, was as cropped and disciplined as the man himself. But even he was helpless against this ridiculous set-up. Leaving the Mistral Sea as one of the sole operational centers of the entire Confederation meant loss of flexibility and levity. It meant bureaucracy, stagnation, and, eventually, bad decisions.

“You’re looking good, Chief,” said Andrew Barringer, Shieh’s aide. Barringer was an ambitious Taurusian who had been lucky enough to be born on a planet with both higher UV exposure and gravity, giving him a dark tan (something most people tend to forget is virtually impossible to keep on a spaceship) and a body that looked like it had been borrowed from a Thracean gallery. He never seemed to travel anywhere without his port-comp. Shieh was always a bit worried about that, but Barringer assured him that all the sensitive information he had on there was brainwave-locked, leaving a .0000645287561% chance of someone cracking it.

“And by good, I of course mean bad,” he finished, offering Shieh a cup of wretched and thoroughly unidentifiable coffee. Shieh grunted his thanks and slammed back the caffeine sludge, feeling it pressing against the sides of his esophagus. All the cholesterol needed some company anyway.

“You know how it is, Andrew. I feel like the maestro in a thousand-monkey orchestra asked to play 'The Stars and Stripes Forever' with kazoos.”

“I hear ya, boss,” Andrew said with a wry grin; they were friends, but neither had any illusions as to why. Necessity. Andrew needed a sympathetic boss to encourage rapid promotion. Shieh needed a capable, level-headed man to keep him from seeing killer penguins in every radiation spike after too many years of intel work.

“There’s a new series of chinks in the armor we need to go over before 1800, Chief. Got a Landreich frigate hanging out a little too close to the main Belfor Sector jump point. Kilrathi militia ships were detected entering something called the Obsidian System. Five Tanfen transports self-destructed rather than be boarded by one of our inspector crews… took out the ship as well. Gouramin protesters…”

“Wait wait wait. Back up. Obsidian?” Shieh interrupted.

Barringer double-checked his display. “Yeah. Some nothing system with only one habitable ribbon world. Our scanners detected a Fralthi II entering the system.”

Shieh turned to his console, manipulating the network with a grace and ease that even a man like Barringer could envy. Literally trillions of gigabytes of data, navigated as efficiently as a…

Well, never mind. Barringer has rather dirty internal analogies.

“See, says right here… for the last few years, Confed has been shipping them military surplus fighters.”

Barringer looked at Shieh incredulously. “Why the click would they be doing something like that?”

Shieh smiled. It was nice to know he was still on top of a few privileged items. “Well, Andrew, it’s not exactly a secret that Confed’s in the middle of a fairly depressing recession. R&D is expensive. They’ve been farming out some of the less important work to fringe worlds who’re willing to take on research-for hire. Confed sent them some fighters so that they could be modified into prototypes to test some new air-to-space engine conversion the Obsidians had contracted to develop.”

“Good lord… what’s next, start sending Wilford out to fight the Visigoths?”

“Something like that. Anyway, why in the galaxy are the Kilrathi moving in on that system? According to these reports, it’s one of those nutcase religious worlds. They’re about as dangerous as my three year old nephew.”

“Dunno. Worry about it later,” Andrew said, anxious to wrap this up. He had a hot date with this slim techie. He had some ideas for those greasy hands of hers that…

Well, damn. There it goes again.

* * *

Aboard the bridge of the flagship KIS Y’taarl, Shintahr Esihn nar Sutaghi lovingly strokes the consecrated copy of the Tome of Sivar that graces the wall of the bridge.

Before them, the Marilla jump point, leading to the Obsidian System, site of blasphemies of the most heinous nature. There had been no shortage of volunteers from within the Cult… his crew was in fact overstocked, more engineers than engines, and definitely more pilots than fighters.

The advantages to this system: a cohesive sense of purpose, a sense of honor, a truly honorable bent towards one’s sworn duty. Far too often in Terran holovids, Kilrathi ships, particularly the bridges and command centers, were scenes of stereotypical posturing and veiled, unanswered insults. Wise up. To the Kilrathi, particularly those of the warrior bent, there is no such thing as an unanswered insult, veiled or otherwise. And posturing? For those with something to prove. Any who had risen to the rank of importance aboard a Kilrathi warship either had the support of some high-ranking noble, or had risen on their own merits. By any standard, they had nothing to prove to anybody.

Esihn knows these things. He was chosen, they said, by Sivar herself, guardian of the Conflict, to deliver the universe from an unappreciated point of view.

And not the good kind, the one that starts the majority of wars. The other one. Y’know.

His bridge crew was hand-picked, and the best suited to the task at hand. His engineering crew would implode plutonium with their teeth if they thought it would be of service. His pilots flew with the surest hands and greatest training the Cult had to offer. It was seamless, Kilrathi Wars perfection. Despite the materials at hand. The Fralthi II was old, true, but still more than serviceable. And more than able to the task at hand.

The jump point spirals open, crackling silently in the nothingness from which it appeared, exerting its succbine call towards the Fralthi, which was only too happy to succumb. With a start, and a small jump, it entered hyperspace. Onwards, upwards, and in all directions at once. Sooner than later. The universe must be saved. The heretics punished.

The Kilrathi redeemed.

* * *

Obsidian’s M-type star glistens sharply against the cartoony teal-green skin of the Sabre I as it jinks sharply, narrowly avoiding a neutron blast from the Kilrathi corvette’s weapons. Unfortunately, the sheer genius of this move notwithstanding, it was impaled by stormfire cannon fire, shredding the craft and pilot inside.

Just goes to show… nobody gives a damn about your talent, only how useful it is.

Space was already far too cluttered for the pilot’s taste; endless repetitive green durasteel plating, the occasional classic Douglas Aerospace fuselage… perhaps a smattering of Kilrathi wreckage, if somebody got lucky, or stupid, or both.

Needless to say, this has not been the fairest of fights.

Credit the defeat not towards a lack of trying on the Obsidianites part… they had worked for years, accumulating an in-system defense force, training pilots, devising defensive strategies. Unfortunately, for all of the theological genius of Obsidian’s inhabitants, not a one of them had a damn clue when it came to tactical or strategic combat. For instance, random patrols by the jump point… these do no good when jump points jam communications while they’re open, and your patrols are your weakest, least combat-viable craft. They had had no warning.

And then, obviously, your pilots need not suck.

Some of them were absolutely brilliant… burn-outs who had become born-again Davidians, cherishing the humanity that war had obliterated before the Kilrathi had even gotten close. Others just had "the knack." But for the most part… forget it. One man was paired alongside his granddaughter, if that’s of any help.

The battle, however, lasts ridiculously long. Credit the complete unpredictability of the Obsidians, their home-turf advantage, the few skilled pilots that wheel and dive and outperform their opponents, despite inferior craft and overwhelming numbers. And the Kilrathi are becoming increasingly frustrated, their howling bloodlust long since faded, replaced with misbegotten exasperation.

By Kt’lan, what are they thinking? Immelmans immediately after sliding into a jet wash… the gravitic force would crush even a Kilrathi! And this is the least of their insanity… their insanity, which has carried them through the years, and brought them now to their extermination.

At one of the observation ports aboard the Y’taarl, a Kilrathi priestess gazes at the ugly world of Obsidian IV. Dirty, she thought, with no redeemable qualities. It is no loss to exterminate them, to remove their world from the databanks to preserve their beautiful display of other, more worthy spheres.

Had they not been so vocal, so irreverent, so completely unincorrigible and unreasonable, they would never have attracted our attention. But they had… practically demanded this fate, preaching the very thing that the priestesses feared most, which could very well destroy the cultural stigma of an entire race.

And you’re worried about some nothing planet, aren’t you? What an asshole.

The fringes of their defensive force pull back… they’ll return, no doubt, intent upon revenging themselves against the ghastly power of the Cult’s extermination fleet, but by then it will be too late… far, far too late.

Troop transports detach from the Fralthi II… the priestesses would allow no orbital bombardment, no cowardly strikes from beyond the enemy’s range. That was a Thrakhath tactic… Thrakhath, and all of the religious depredation that he represented.

She drew her ceremonial dagger and cut her palm, drinking her blood as an offering to Sivar.

Sivar, who watched over all.

* * *

Picture of a man ridiculously overworked: Lieutenant Commander Alan Shieh, head of Intelligence for the TCS Mistral Sea.

Amazing, isn’t it? He hurt… even his veins hurt, if that gives you any indication.

His eyes ached from the sheer amount of information being impressed upon him. It was crippling, in a lot of ways. Shieh envied God, who only had to be omnipotent. Not only was Shieh expected to know everything, he was supposed to do something about it.

Damn raw deal.

So it’s no surprise to anybody when, as the report of the destruction of the Obsidian fringe world by Kilrathi religious sect forces crosses his desk, he stamps a “Resolved” onto the conflict report, concluding (rather in a hurry) that there is nothing more to be done. Involving the Mistral Sea in a huntdown operation was a) impossible and b) a waste of valuable resources. Fighters investigating could mean fighters destroyed, something not taken lightly in these days of increasing budget cuts.

Shieh sits in his office, aboard the Mistral, and signs off on death and disaster. The true weight of the knowledge, the inaction that follows it when every nerve demands action…

It’s good for him he doesn’t drink.

* * *

On the surface of Obsidian IV, cold, unblinking eyes watch the Kilrathi cultists tear the throats from the Davidian inhabitants, clicking their ecstasy in silence at the carnage.

How easily… how hopelessly simple to kidnap one of their number, years previous, and instill within him the idea that would prove to be the Cult’s worst fear. Now, the Cult had overplayed their hand… overplayed, and would pay for it, weakening their influence and power.

It was well for them, absolutely essential, to have seeded this outpost years before, to have contingency plans built into contingency plans should the Kilrah incursion prove unsuccessful. And now, the fruit of their machinations, borne of the implanted fever dreams of a particularly esoteric Davidian, they had reaped what they had sown… reapers, one and all.

The Nephilim watch the Kilrathi purification force, watch, and consider. Years of planning; building to fruition… but slowly, ever so slowly.

They were in no hurry. That was the beauty of of the plan. Its timeless climb towards completion. Years, decades could pass… it meant no difference. All that mattered was the plan.

They had time. And patience. All of the time and patience in the universe.




L I N K S . . .