PHASE IV : THE LOKI ARC ( 1 of 66 )

: “ Puppeteer ”

In God we trust.
God bless you.
God knows.

And His ways are unfathomable.

So they say.

It is written in the stars, they say, too.
This is our destiny, they say.
They call it fate, kismet, and karma.
Many names it has.

Its fortune, doom, and providence.

But I know better.

Everyone is his own fortune’s smith.
Life is what you make it.

There is no such thing as destiny.

Or is there?

“The future of prescience cannot always be locked into the rules of the past. 
The threads of existence tangle according to many unknown laws.
Prescient future insists on its own rules. It will not conform to the ordering of the
Zensunni nor to the ordering of science. Prescience builds a relative integrity.
It demands the work of this instant, always warning that you cannot weave every
thread into the fabric of the past.”
- Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune



F/A-105A Tigershark 103 [ Sky Raider Three ]
Planet Nephele II; atmospheric entry, vector near Hightower Flats
The Nephele System, Downing Quadrant, Vega Sector
FEB 10 2681/2681.041; 1937 Hours (CST)

The fighter shook heavily. He was lucky to have survived that last volley... or should it really be called luck at all? 

2nd Lieutenant Mo “Voodoo” Ayibobo struggled in the cockpit of his ’Shark to regain some semblance of control of his rapidly-plummeting plane. He found himself futilely praying what was left of his fore shields would be enough to buffet his re-entry course. It wasn’t easy. The flightstick behaved not unlike a stubborn, bucking bull; acting on its own volition and seemingly possessing a will all its own. Meanwhile, a thick acrid smoke was filling the cockpit, making it deciphering the control panels almost as difficult as it made it for him to breathe. Yet his on-line AI’s audio output, which had engaged automatically, kept telling him what was going on damage-wise like some kind of R2-D2, faithful to the last. What Voodoo heard did not sound good. One system after the other failed before his eyes, each one refusing to answer or otherwise continue to function in any useful manner. The altitude, switching from KPS to KPH upon entry of Nephele II’s atmosphere (not that Voodoo could read it at this point anyway), was dropping rapidly.

“Shit... coming down hot,” he cursed. “Hot... too fucking hot!”

He considered going for the ejection O-ring, but not before making one last attempt to stabilize the plane. He switched off his badly stuttering left engine, working now only partially. At least the stabilizations still worked, though working in considerable overtime and would not last much longer under the current strain. Still trying to seize full control of his ’Shark, Voodoo thought he caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. Something from outside. Something that looked like a Marine LC, the standard Hercules-class. Could that be... or had his eyes, irritated from the smoke and soot in his cockpit, fooled him? Navcomputer was already down, every MFD blown or shattered along with it.


He tried to recall his last position. When he finally made his decision in his pulling of the O-ring—which was, in reality, only five seconds later—the ejection system was shot as well. More systems screwed up, now almost simultaneously.

“Oh, oh. That’s really not my day. I knew it. Knew it this morning. This is the end. Now it starts,” he told himself, his vidcomm system long gone. In fact, that damn thing was the first that had failed.

Lt. Ayibobo gave full thrust one last time before he killed the remaining right engine turbine, too, trying to bring his bird into something of a glide flight without the aid of the suspensorlifts. One by one he shut down the systems still on-line. A dizzying sense of nausea blurring his vision, he looked straight into Neph II’s setting sun behind blinking eyes and held the image of the G-type star sinking into the horizon in his mind’s eye.

My last sun setting, it will be, he mused grimly, the ground coming perilously closer.

“I’m going down with the sun,” he whispered, borderline delirious at this point. “Yo, Kn’thrak, you fucking furries’ eternal darkness... you listening? Open wide ’cause here I come...”

Touching and clasping his amulet as if it offered him some last feeling of comfort, Voodoo prepared for the impact.



F-108A Panther 001 [ Alpha Lead ]
200,000 klicks to upper atmosphere, planet Nephele II
2035 Hours (CST)

The CO of the Aztecs, Major Hishori “Ronin” -- formerly “Dragoon” -- Nawazaki’s gloved hand briefly brushed over the ornate wooden handle of his kamikaze dirk at his hip. It was a family heirloom, a blade passed from father to son since it had been recovered from the wreckage of his ancestor’s plane during Earth’s ancient World War II in 1945. Japanese military tradition dictated that, were one of their kamikaze pilots to be captured by the enemy they would draw their dirk and commit the ritual disembowelment seppuku suicide.

“It won’t come to that,” he told himself.

War. Real war, declared or not... the facing of the feeling that the same people who stand with you today could -- and many would -- be having their funeral tomorrow changed people as precious few emotions would. Fighting against overwhelming odds had taken a toll on every squadron in the Valley Forge’s flight wing, and the Aztecs were no exception. After losing half of their pilots --including both the CO and XO -- morale had been shot to hell, the squadron seemed all too ready to break apart. And why wouldn’t it? 

But then, it had happened. Passing through the baptism of fire that had claimed seven Aztecs to date, they had transformed from being simply a group of nine semi-proud pilots to a real unit, a whole which thought and acted as one with a single, all-too simplistic yet effective desire: revenge.

Major Nawazaki had readily accepted his new role of leadership as squadron commander. He did so in honor of Major Cardoso, taking the new callsign of “Ronin,” the meaning of which translating into “masterless samurai.” He was his own master now.

Ronin looked first to the right and then to the left, scanning the perimeter ahead for any unusual activity. Just when it seemed the outlying escort mission was going to be a cinch, one of the Tigersharks in the White Hopes waiting to escort the Marine LCs back off-planet got double-teamed by a pair of Stingrays and a Skate-B. The ’Shark was hit up with a salvo of ImRecs, sent plummeting on impact into Neph II’s gravity well. The squadmates of 2nd Lt. Mo “Voodoo” Ayibobo could be heard crying out for their lost comrade on the comm as the ’Shark continued its doomed spasmodic fall.

Shaking his head, Ronin brought his throttle all the way up. Side by side, nine F-108A Panthers headed out against the enemy group, escorting six Shrike torpedo bombers of the 402nd “Lancers,” and nine Wasp interceptors of the 323rd “Fire Balls.” Their task would be to suppress enemy activity and protect them while the bombers/interceptors destroyed the larger targets.

“Aztecs, before we engage our opponents I have a few words to say.” Ronin cleared his throat to continue, “If there was one good lesson I learned the time I spent on the Kirathi POW camp in that Hell’s Kitchen star post, it was that if someone pushes you then you must push them back.” An experience he had never mentioned to his squadron before, save once to his old friend, Alan, it was difficult to bring up now. “If they kill one of us we must lash out at five of them... at least. Do you know why? It’s all about respect... no matter what you can say about them, the Kilrathi understood it as few but my own Japanese ancestors did. Never mind the Cats’ prophecy -- why did the Nephilim invade our territory when they could have just as easily gone somewhere else and still have found the same or better resources out Spinward? The Aliens did it because they thought they wouldn’t be meeting serious opposition. Well, they pushed us; now, we are going to push them back.

“All right. Draft, you’re leading DDT Wing with Burrito... consider yourselves responsible for the Lancers. Gamma Wing will be with me protecting the Fire Balls. Break on my mark.”

“Aye, aye, Major,” replied Captain Angela “Draft” Rai, Ronin’s XO.

“Nice speech, boss,” piped 1st Lt. Bruno “Nitro” Dias.

“Shut your mouth, Nitro,” was 1st Lt. Miani “Shiva” Tnisu’s response.

“Jus’ talkin’ ’bout Shaft!”


“All right—that’s enough, you two,” Ronin spoke in moderation. “Major Adrian, Colonel Hale... the Aztecs will split up to protect you both. At 50,000 klicks the Wasps will engage their afterburners while Panther Alpha and Delta Wing forms up on autoslide, as to conserve fuel. The objective will be to get their asses out there fast, take out as many enemies as possible. Panther Gamma and Echo Wing and the Shrikes should be arriving to meet with us at the same time. Afterwards, we will all hook up and set out against the Nephilim. Any questions?”

None of the Aztecs’ pilots or other squadron commanders had any. 


Planet Nephele II; near Hightower Flats
2044 Hours (CST)

“Things could... be a lot worse. Right?”

Over an hour now since the crash, Voodoo marched in the direction that his intuition told him was west -- or more importantly, to where he had seen the Landing Craft... supposing that he was right on that. With having no other hint, however, it was the only thing he could do.

He had tended to his various injuries in the best possible way and with all that he had been able to use. His first aid kit had been almost exhausted after sealing off the gashes he had found on his head alone. Not to speak of the immense cut on his right thigh he had received when climbing out of his shattered cockpit. The combined painkiller and antibiotic injection he had administered himself afterwards helped greatly in suppressing the horrible pain that came from practically every part of his body. The shortcoming of it, though, was that it significantly reduced his perceptive and cognitive faculties.

Block it out... it’s not important... kill the pain... kill the pain...

Voodoo paid no attention to any of it. The crash landing, the fact that his fighter was a totally wrecked hulk, the charred pieces of which able to be traced back well over two miles of desert terrain to its final resting place. Any and all communication equipment gone. Not even a distress beacon his Tigershark could send was possible now. He was completely cut off. Severely wounded.

Hell in a handbasket. Voodoo realized he might as well have been dead.

He was in a desert, one that by all rights should be irradiated after the “Lancers”’ TB-81B Shrike torpedo bombers had made their thermonuclear airburst run an hour or so ago. It was getting dark, and quickly. He was very much lost. No. What really troubled him was something that was dawning on him. Something that became more and more obvious. His fate. It had finally found him. This was the place of his encounter with destiny. The god of gods.

And with that beginning realization came fear. A growing fear.

There was a steady wind blowing from northwest. During the swelteringly hot day, at times there was really no wind at all on Nephele II. Right when it was most desirable, in the peak hours of noon time, when the surface heated up to some 50 to 60 centigrade Celsius (even ’74 had been recorded once), not the faintest breeze would move the air. The air instead was motionless, hanging over everything on Neph II as a thick, hot and sticky, syrup-like soaking wet film. Wind, other than the sand storms at night, occurred—if at all—only in the early morning hours right after sunrise or in the late evening when the sun was setting. On the contrary the drastic decline in temperature at night consistently stirred up huge circulation in the lower atmosphere. An ordinary night on Neph II was said to be a windy one. Wind could rapidly rise to gale force and sand storms were quite common. Despite all the heavy circulation of air then, and the counterbalance of hot and cold air fronts, thunderstorms, and, thus, rainfall was still pure luck. The scantily pursued agriculture on Neph II could not carry on without massive artificial irrigation.

As the wind constantly rose it swept up more and more sand with it. The sand found its way into even the smallest of openings. As he faced the wind directly it blew the sand into his eyes, nose, mouth and ears. It continued to wander under his bandages and into the wounds underneath.

The sand carrying wind declined sight. Causing his eyes to water it made it yet worse. He tried to wipe the sand out of his eyes which only made it going from worse to worst.

Suddenly he heard a noise. A roaring sound. He stopped to listen. Nothing. Only the wind. There… again, he thought, but no—just the wind. He felt fooled by his senses and he blamed it on the painkillers. There… it was anew. Only for a short time before it was gone with the wind, but quite unmistakably this time. It had sounded like an engine. The sound, not being monotonous, had have two ups and one down as originating from a vehicle working itself through difficult terrain. 

A Hover craft maybe...? The Marines?!

“M-Mar… Marines?” he murmured hoarsely. He grinned deliriously. “Go, Marines… by god…”

Voodoo sprinted forward, running as fast as he could in the deep, loose sand. The effort recklessly drained off his power. Half on his legs, half crawling on all fours, he charged up the next dune. On top, heavily breathing, he did not stop but thrust himself down yet again. He staggered however and fell. Tumbling downhill, he landed unluckily on his left side where he had presumably broken no less than three rips of his during the crash landing. The impact took his breath, knocking the wind out of him and nearly making him lose his consciousness. Desperately struggling to catch his breath, Voodoo fell into a fit of heavy coughing. The sand that he inhaled thereby -- and that traveled both into his stomach as into his lungs -- only made his coughing that much worse. Lt. Ayibobo bent and writhed with pain for nearly five minutes. When at last he began to recover, he turned on his back and tried to listen into the wind. The world around him was spinning.

There—the roaring sound. Louder. Closer this time, he believed. The sound ended abruptly. He listened intently, but it was gone. Instead he heard something else. Softer, completely different. Voices! He heard voices. Human voices!

He directed all his will into his arms; into his legs. Consequently he pulled himself up. Swaying and sometimes with his hands seeking holds on the ground, he staggered in the direction of those voices he heard.


About the same time; not too far away…

Charlie Unit
HAPC Rover One
2050 Hours (CST)

“Corporal McDermitt, stop the HAPC and open the hatch!” Second Lieutenant Mitchell Sallinos bellowed at the driver.


“Do it!” As the Pilot-Corporal did so, the Lieutenant waved the Marines up from their seats and jabbed a finger toward the rear hatch as it unlatched and retracted into the roof. “Everybody out of the HAPC—now!”

Sallinos and McDermitt hopped out of the Hover APC (Armored Personnel Carrier) last, rejoining the five other Marines. Lance Corporal Kimberly Stetson (E-3) was horror-struck of what she had just witnessed. She did not know what shocked her more: the bug symbiote they had spotted among the monks, the uncharacteristic cold with which Sallinos had killed this organism right away, the mess this murder had left or the prospect of what she feared would happen next. Stetson watched PFC Janson still cleaning the monk’s gray matter off his face.

“First Sergeant DeWitt,” the Lieutenant addressed the stoutly topkick. The embittered woman pushed her way through the others and came to attention in front of him.


“Destroy the HAPC.”

“Sir, yes, sir!” DeWitt popped off a salute. While she prepared her RPG she exchanged a quick look with Stetson. In her eyes the Lance Corporal could see two opposing feelings troubling the First Sergeant. Those were sorrow and fear.

DeWitt fired. Stetson kept her eyes firmly on DeWitt, and DeWitt only. She painstakingly avoided to watch the HAPC with the Zen Buddhist monks in it, two of them standing on the vehicle’s ramp, and DeWitt’s rocket impacting. Stetson did not want to visually take that in hope. Coping with it afterwards, probably for the rest of her life, would be easier.

“C’mon, no time to fuck around, people -- everybody aboard the LC, double time!” Sallinos shouted and moved ahead of his men. “Move!”

Lance Corporal Stetson followed suit, only one face among many.


Only about 150 meters away...
2051 Hours (CST)

When he raised his head about to shout something he was utterly caught by surprise as an explosion enfolded in front of his eyes. He was about a 150 meters away from it, the explosion halfway concealed by a dune. Still, without a doubt there was a human-designed vehicle standing in flames. He fell on his knees. It was a Marine HAPC.

Ayibobo could not see too much. It was thoroughly dark by now, and though both moons would have been normally visible, tonight the clouds -- chasing the night sky -- prevented the moonlight from illuminating the terrain. All he could make out was the little area lit by the explosion and the Hover APC still standing in flame. No sign of the Aliens. Instead he saw the black silhouettes of two Marine officers storming away. In the background there was at least one more shadow moving, all headed in the same direction. Following their bearing with his eyes and continuing on it, he believed he spotted the faint contours of a Landing Craft (once his eyes had adapted to the darker background).

He did not know what just had happened here nor what was going on at all. It all did not seem right to him. Something was definitely going awfully wrong. He felt that. Not a bit he cared anymore. All was immediately forgotten as one single thought kicked in and occupied every other. Each nerve, each muscle was possessed by that one thought: I’m going home.

Only one thing was left that mattered. He had… he must get to the Landing Craft by any and all means, as fast as possible.

And while his body and soul melted together to become but one solitary drive he was able to mobilize his last ounce of strength to pull himself up again. He ran. Unsteadily. Humbling. Stumbling. Staggering. The best way he could. Giving everything.

Then when he heard screams, instantly followed by gunfire his mind refused to register either. In its place he started shouting which was, in actuality, more a croaking. Lt. Ayibobo did not deem himself to be heard, lest understood. He was just functioning at this point, that alone being something he had to thank his lucky stars for. Even a pilot like him was drilled not to approach any friendlies, especially members of the Terran Confederation Marine Corps, under circumstances like the current without clearly identifying himself. An approach that otherwise one would most likely not survive, except maybe had he been some Special Forces-trained kind of Navy SEALs crack-hardened grunt-type.

As he closed in, he did not fully notice the rattling and clattering, the faint squealing and squeaking sounds that the wind carried over from inside of the Landing Craft. Sounds that, although never heard before, should have told him all too quickly where they only could be coming from; sounds that gave him the creeps nevertheless. Also sounds of armor being penetrated. The slicing and rending of raw flesh. Bones splintering. All these noises did not find their way from his ears to his brain. It was all or nothing for him. Reaching the LC or dying right there. Everything else was secondary.

What really caught his attention at last was the inferno, the sea of flames that suddenly opened up in front of him. Only about 25 meters away he had been from the LC. In the flames he could see the LC burning on its smoking pyres. In those flames, all his hopes were burning, too. Everything was consumed right before his unflinchingly-set gaze by the fiercely raging fire.

Emerging in the flames, he saw a creature that could only have been belched from the deepest depths of Hell itself. Burning, shrieking, spasmodic—this creature danced on the ruins of his rescue, on the ash of his last hope. It danced the perverted dance of death.

Banned from the scenario and stiff from fear, he was unable to move away. Only now he understood that this dæmon gaijin of Hell was raging in the throes of death. While the evil died with a terrible shriek that threatened to burst his eardrums, new beasts arose from the blaze left and right of it. They were coming for him.

He turned and started to run for his life. The beasts were in hot pursuit. They were close. Too close. A slash! Fabric being cut. It got him a move on all the more. Soon afterwards he was feeling something warm running down his back. Trying to reach for it, he began to lose his footing and fell once more. Struggling to catch his breath, with every single part of his body working overtime, he watched his hand, which had touched his back. It was smeared over and over with blood. It’s over, the ultimate thought was. Lt. Ayibobo pulled himself up a last time in order to roll on his back and to look his fate straight into its cold, inhuman eyes. There! He saw a light in the far distance. Lt. Ayibobo’s body dropped into the sand. With his body collapsing he focused all left energy on his mental power. Searching the light for a suitable medium he reached out...

He found it before passing out.


The very same time; aboard Marine LC Scythe Two
2053 Hours (CST)

Lance Corporal Leon “Warthog” Stevens was exhausted. He sat leaned up against the wall in the rear of LC 2 with his MPR-27, his eyes shut. Nobody paid attention when a little tug passed through his body. His eyeballs moved rapidly beneath his eyelids.

“LC 3, do you copy?”

“Still no response, sir!”

“Something must have gone wrong.”

Stevens opened his eyes and spoke up. “They were ambushed in their Landing Craft.”

“What?” First Lt. Temuulan Dshugder-Warmuth turned her head sharply.

“Try over there…” Without looking up, Stevens devised a direction with the index finger of his left hand. 10 o’clock. Dshugder-Warmuth and the pilot looked in the direction pointed out to them.

“Look there, sir!” the pilot said tensely shortly after.

“Holy shit! That’s the wreckage of their LC,” the Lieutenant exclaimed traumatized.

“Poor bastards!” someone behind her shouted, bringing voice to what everybody was thinking.

“They did not make it.”

“How could that’ve happened? They even had a HAPC.”

“What’s this?” The pilot motioned towards some shadows moving on the ground.

“Go down! But be careful!” Lt. Temuulan Dshugder-Warmuth instructed.


Same moment; on the ground...
2054 Hours (CST)

Lance Corporal Stetson was shooting with all she had. The M-42 machine pistol she had firmly gripped in one hand, her M-58A1 Laser Assault Rifle she had in the other. Her Corps-standard C-288 LP pistol she still kept in its small, discreet holster at arm’s reach, her personal sidearm of choice if the going got tough.

Shooting. Punching. Kicking. She battled in everything she was trained for in since Day One of boot camp after giving up her civilian life of accounting, house-keeping, Tri-D daytime soap operas, and pleasing a deadbeat ex-husband she only found to courage to leave when it was already too late. Corporal Stetson fought like a Fury.

“You creepy, ugly-shit monsters… I go down, you go down the fuck with me, you hear? Yeah!”

She fired into the round. The bugs were everywhere... and there was far too many of them. Stetson never saw the long sharp tendril coming that bore and wrenched itself deep into her waist without significant resistance from her chameleon-camouflaged C-255 combat armor. The standard C-545 webbing and BDUs did similarly little, the tendril tearing through it all like so much wet paper. The subsequent pain she felt made her emit a deep growl.  Her vision turned a mottled red. Through it she saw another bug coming.

Just as quickly as it had advanced on her, the other Alien abruptly vanished. It dropped as it had lost ground. She trained her M-42 on the Nephilim, whose tendril was still stuck in her waist and pressed the trigger. The bug, however, whirled her around with its ripcord muscles, her bullets missing it badly. Her hair-triggered line of fire cut through the night sky. 

Out of control...


Aboard Marine LC Scythe Two, at the same time…
2055 Hours (CST)

A chain of fiery gunshots spraying forth from the rocky formations abound the terrain impacted across the broad belly of their Hercules craft. The rapid sequence of the little impacts on its hull could be clearly heard as hollow and metallic sounds inside the ship.

“We’re under fire, sir!” shouted Ramón, the resident pilot.

“Break off, immediately!” Lt. Dshugder-Warmuth bellowed, even as the ballistic rounds -- suspiciously like those of standard-issue TCMC firearms, perhaps stray ones—were impacting across the LC’s cockpit window.

“Damage status!” she cried.

“Searchlight gone; hull integrity is still at 72%. Cockpit window intact. Sir!”

“Hell, where did these shots came from?” the Lieutenant inquired, a furious demeanor about him.

“You just named it, Lieutenant.” It came out of her back.

“Hey, that’s just bloody funny,” another voice said.

“Couldn’t see a thing down there!” the pilot tried to justify himself.

“With the searchlight gone we can as well pack and go home,” yet another Marine remarked from the seat compartment behind her.

“Everybody shuts the fuck up right now!” Dshugder-Warmuth vigorously hopped on the evolving disorder.

“Let’s deal with it rationally,” she said harshly, trying to calm down. “It is very unlikely that there’s anyone alive down there anymore. Even if there is... there won’t be for long. Really nothing we can do about. By now there are just too many of them deployed. You all know the numbers of them we came across on our way back. We still have a job to do, and that’s evacuating the monks. We can’t afford to lose this LC as well. We can’t even risk it for the very questionable prospect of finding survivors... no matter how terrible that may sound.” Any of the Marines there with half a heart left shot the Lieutenant a solemn glance. As their CO -- and a damned good one that had all but fit right into Lt. Colonel Trelane’s rather large, vacant boots -- they wouldn’t question Dshugder on this or any matter, particularly under the present circumstances and what they’d been through of late, but...

Marines weren’t supposed to leave their own behind. Not ever.

“If all of this is to mean anything, we gotta get out of here on the double. We’re behind schedule as it is.”

Vandermann and Schaefer’s “Operation Scour” would proceed to its completion without further interruptions.



F-108A Panther 002 [ DDT Lead ]
2150 Hours (CST)

A thin, barely visible trail of smoke from Major Nawazaki’s spinning Panther was left behind it before the fighter’s spasmodic fall carried it out of view. Just another casualty, another pilot’s life snuffed out like a candle in the wind. Captain Angel “Draft” Rai, the new Aztecs’ CO, averted her gaze and steeled her composure.

“We got incoming, Aztecs,” she informed the squadron she now found herself in command of. “Alpha and DDT Wings, let’s take out the Cats.”

“Draft, the Forge has identified those fighters as friendlies,” informed Captain Carlos “Burrito” Rodrigues -- now her XO by the squadron’s chain of command, though neither likely really realized it just yet.

“I don’t care, Captain Rodrigues,” Captain Rai spoke, stressing her rank; trying to show definitively who was the superior officer now. “Bugs and Cats are all alike. Kill them... all of them -- that’s what Cardoso’d say if he were still alive.” She paused. “But The Orchin Man is gone, and now so is Ronin...”

Yes... gone...

“Those Cats aren’t hostile, Captain,” Burrito tried to explain. “Let’s just play it cool an -- ”

“And what?” Draft snapped. There was a clear note of instability to the woman’s shaking voice. “Try to make friends with them, so they can stab us in the back? We kill them, and we do it now!”

“I’m with Draft all the way,” 2nd Lt. Jethrow “Riceburner” Beacon said. “What are you, Burrito, some kind of fucking Cat lover?”

1st Lt. Miani “Shiva” Tnisu had already heard enough; it was time for her to act. “You go out after those Cats, sir,” she addressed Draft as sternly as she could, “and I’ll have no choice but to open fire on you. And you, too, Riceburner. They’re not our enemies... yet.”

Captain Rai lowered her head in solace, relenting. Miani’s was the voice of reason—moreover, she was right. No act of blind retribution she could carry out now -- be it on ally or enemy -- would bring back her CO.


Meanwhile on-ground, in the vicinity of LC 2...
2255 Hours (CST)

Much of her TCMC gear rendered useless after the electromagnetic pulse of the thermonuke airburst laid an hour ago by one of the Forge’s lead Shrikes, Kimberly Stetson could rely on only raw instinct and intuition now. No nightvision lenses -- no starlight to illuminate the night for her. As a Marine with a promising career ahead of her, she'd been trained to do just fine in this or a worse situation regardless... but that didn't mean she had to like it.

Whirling around, the Marine offhandedly caught sight of a radiant blade in the dark. A sword of light, the blade of which made of pure fluorescence reflecting some unseen light, it seemed to the naked eye. 

Losing its radiance and glint, the blade whipped and was thrust down upon her brow. Stetson lost her footing and tumbled to the sandy gravel, freed mysteriously from the Nephilim Alien that had waylaid and pinned her.


All she then became aware of was a man of Asian descent, dressed in a helmetless flightsuit. The man slinked about in movements of pained grace, performing an ancient dance of death with a slim Japanese sword he seemed to wield with great skill. His blade—curved, slightly—sliced through the Crustacean thoracic corpses and extremities of the insectoid Nephilim.

Green, viscous goo splattered all over the place. Despite the sickeningly horrible scene that was unfolding before her, the man had looked as if he was doing a kind of ballet. That so graceful and precise were his moves, yet that violent and lethal, too, was something to watch indeed. 

When it was all over and the grim ballet was finished, the man sheathed his green-blooded blade, wiped some of the blood and sweat from his brow, and turned to the woman. 

“Tadaima,” he greeted, tipping his close-shaven head in respect.

Stetson passed out.


Half an hour later...

Planet Nephele II; near Hightower Flats
2327 Hours (CST)

“There you are... can you hear me?”

A feminine figure checked him over thoroughly. The dark-skinned, somewhat lanky pilot lying before her, the man clad in the same “71st FW”-emblazoned flightsuit as her new Aztec Squadron companion, was severely wounded. He did, however, have a strong enough pulse and was still breathing -- very flatly -- but breathing.

“Can you hear me?” she asked again, lightly slapping his cheek this time. “Pilot, c’mon. Gimme a sign, a cough, a flare, smoke signals -- something!”

The pilot slowly opened his eyes. The storm was gone, the clouds swept aside with it. In the pale light of Neph II’s two moons, the luminescence of Neph Prime long gone beyond the horizon, he could see a fuzzy image of a woman -- shapely enough, with the “dangerous curves” he tended to go for -- bent over him. She was covered with blotches of dirt and speckles of blood both clotted and fresh, sweaty strands of her uniformly-cut blond hair falling on him.

“W-wh-who… what… where…?” he stammered out.

“Sshh. You need to drink.” With that, she helped him sit up and handed him a cup, standard TCMC field dishes.

He held the cup with his right hand. The mug gave off a pleasing warmth to his hand. The smell of its content was somewhat familiar to him. Yet it disturbed him...

“Drink!” the woman -- wearing the uniform of a Confed Marine, he was relieved to see -- "encouraged" him. He obliged finally, never being one to say “no” to an attractive lady -- even one dressed up in pretty much full jarhead combat regalia -- taking a sip but spewing it out almost instantaneously.

“Aargh! Are you trying to kill me, woman? This burns like holy hell!” He hollered and coughed. “Fuck, it tastes like piss!”

“That’s right! What did you expect? A Single Malt Scotch? I’m afraid I have to disappoint you -- we're all fresh out. We don’t even have water, pilot, unless you've got a thing for the kind that glows green,” the Marine woman explained, downcast. “Oh, by the way... Lance Corporal Kim Stetson, TCMC, 97th Assault Detachment, stationed aboard the Forge. I didn’t catch your name...?”

“2nd Lieutenant Mo Ayibobo,” he answered, trying to summon more strength into his voice. “Callsign... Voodoo.”

“Pleased to meet you, Voodoo.” The Marine would have shook his hand then if she thought he was in any condition to be shaking anything. “I was on LC 3.”

“It blew… how… I saw...” he struggled to understand.

“Hey, pilot, no joke -- you really need to drink. Just trust me on this one, okay? I drank it numerous times on ill-doomed sorties before. You won’t die. Not from this, anyway.” Stetson gave a somewhat cynical chuckle.

“The monks we evacuated,” she began again, a more solemn tone. “One of them was… transformed, was one of them… a puppet, in a manner of speaking. Lt. Sallinos decided to blow up the HAPC with the monks in it. We'd done all we could -- we just wanted to get out of here then. We rushed into the LC, but only to find them waiting for us in the dark interior.

“Everything went very quickly then... all I really recall is getting quite the mighty punch against my helmet which I’m guessing must have propelled me for quite some distance through the air. Fun, I think, but it put me out. Next thing I know is that I watched the bugs storming away from the LC. It was aflame. The ’xeno-sects looked like they were after something or somebody. Hell, coulda been you. It would explain the little scratch I found on your back... all the way down from your neck to your cute little ass.” The Marine turned her head to look back, then shirked away from Voodoo’s gaze. “We’re in the same boat here, pilot. Shit outta luck... left for dead...”

A grim expression came over Voodoo’s facial features. “The Lancers... ‘Secondary Objective’...” he sighed, “... was it carried out?”

Stetson nodded. “I saw the flash,” she spoke quietly, barely audible. “And we’re alone here, as far as I can tell.” Voodoo caught a flash of her alluring blue eyes, so washed of any trace of innocence—what had they seen in the Corps, he wondered? “We probably won’t have long until we receive fatal doses of radiation... hours, maybe a day if your flightsuit’s anti-RAD layering is as tough as mine.”

Discontinuing that subject, knowing there was nothing that could be done about it either way, Voodoo then went on to try to compare and cross-reference what he had just heard from the Marine to what he had seen beforehand. It made sense. He was about to offer comment on the remark of his “cute little ass” when he heard a noise.

Corporal Stetson, noticing his panicked reaction, tried to calm him down. “Don’t panic. That’s Ronin, one more pilot who had to crash land. Just like you, I suppose. He wanted to examine the remains of LC Three.”

“Ronin? You mean Major Nawazaki, CO of the bloomin’ Aztecs! He crashed down here, too?”

Major Nawazaki stepped out from behind Stetson, Japanese sword drawn at readiness and standing like some futuristic ninja ready for a duel to the death. “I see you could save him,” he addressed Stetson. And to his fellow pilot he asked, “How do you fare, Lt. Ayibobo?”

“Seen... better days, friend.” Voodoo managed a grin, clasping and shaking the Aztec CO’s hand. “Damn, guy, you look like some kind of ninja, holdin’ that sword like that.”

“Ninja... no,” he replied, his tone masking whatever emotion was underneath if any. “Ninja were rogues... assassins in my country’s colorful Feudal times. In more ways than one, Ayibobo, I am Ronin.”



TCS Valley Forge; Flight Wing Rec Room
The Loki System, Downing Quadrant, Vega Sector
FEB 11 2681/2681.042; 0324 Hours (CST)

Things had changed on the Forge. A Fralthi II-class cruiser captained by supposedly a Kilrathi friend of Vandermann’s had joined their battle group -- now known and celebrated as “Battle Group Auriga,” which encompassed the recent Border Worlder additions on the BWS Condor as well as the new Kilrathi ones on the KIS Shrak’har ras Kt’ann -- and the atmosphere had grown even more convoluted aboard.

The new additions still did not, however, take any concern away from the comrades left for dead the previous day.

“It all stinks to high heaven, that’s for sure,” 1st Lieutenant Colfax DruPre’ Confa, callsign “Kingmaker,” at the 114th White Hopes table yelled. “It’s just not right the way it is. There’s definitely something going on.”

“Hell, what are you talking about? Whether the politicians have declared it or not, there’s a war going on -- that’s what’s not right. Nothing’s going the right way in a war. This is just how it is. How it has always been. And it’ll always stay that way. That’s just the fucking war. It is what war is all about. A whole damn bloody fucking piece of shit, awfully stinking to holy high heaven. Exclamation mark.”

“Yep, I’ll drink to that one. Piece’a shit!” 2Pack raised his glass before gulping down the Hell’s Kitchen drink in one swallow.

“Don’t know why you see a conspiracy behind everything, Mystique. Can’t you see…?”

“No! Sheesus, don’t you see? I mean... don’t any of you see? Our captain, the dying of Colonel Trelane and his Marines… Rico! Did you forget what he did to him? It was his death sentence.”

Everyone lowered their heads gravely. No, they had not forgotten what happened with Rico. How could they?

“Oh, shit!” Mystique swiftly added after she saw what she had caused with bringing up Rico’s case. Vandermann’s denial of landing clearance for Rico’s heavily damaged fighter had sealed his fate, to speak of just one example. Dying on the battlefield. For whose glory? The battlefield was much too often a field of tragedy and -- simply -- death than it was a field of honor and glory. 1st Lieutenant Rico “Crow” Kunen had taken down one more Skate-B bomber that decided it had gall enough to target the Forge. But did he really have to die? For what purpose?

“Sorry, but I’m only speaking the truth, stating the facts. What did we win by his death? … And there is so much more to chew over. A lot of which just came with yesterday’s events. What hides itself behind Secondary Objective? What exactly happened to LC Three? Did you actually know that when they checked LC Two they found fire marks on it that possibly originate from a M-42 machine pistol sidearm? With our own weaponry opened fire on us? Our Marines down there were equipped with that type of gun. What was really going on on Neph II? What was going on down there when fire was opened on LC Two? Who shot at them with a TCMC standard weapon? And why? Do you think it was the xenos? And if that’s not enough for you: one of the Marines believes there are still human survivors on the planet. So…”

“Hey, now you’re losing it totally. Sorry, Mystique. Shut the fuck up! You’re nuts. Go see the fuckin’ shrink!” Kingmaker interfered angry. “Man, that’s all bullshit! Can’t hear it any longer.” With that, Kingmaker stood up and walked away, shaking his head in disbelief.

2Pack Dukovski gazed after him scornfully. Mark Dukovski could not cope with the son of an influential Inner Worlds senator. He considered Colfax DruPre’ Confa a cowardly and opportunist sucker. When the shit had hit the van regarding their encounter with the bugs and even before he had found Kingmaker been on the sick list. Though always officially correct, with medical attest, 2Pack had not been able to put aside his suspect that Kingmaker had arranged it. Meanwhile, however, he could not get around acknowledging that Kingmaker contributed his fair share of a pilot’s duty no less than anybody else in the squadron did. DruPre’ Confa had not been listed sick as of late. Still, 2Pack did not like him and he made no secret of it.

Speaking to Mystique, 2Pack shook off the disdain written on his face. “Sophie, listen. I hate to admit it, but Kingmaker is right. Calm down, girl. You’re overreacting.”

Lt. Eloui could not calm down. A thousand thoughts raced through her head. Crisscross. All the various signs. Were they just accidents or were they related to one another? No matter how hard she racked her brain about it she could not find the link. One of the latest news worried her most…

“But what about Matt?” she spoke her thought out loud. The bridge officer that had disappeared… the rumors had been circulating like wildfire.


Trapped in her thoughts, unaware of what she had slipped out, she asked, “What?”

Lieutenant Bousdoukos had been -- unregistered by all other -- strangely detached since Mystique had mentioned the questioned existence of survivors on Nephele II. Klepth had intuitively been reminded of his closest friend on board -- Lt. Mo “Voodoo” Ayibobo. Voodoo was shot down over Nephele II in much the same way as Major Nawazaki. Both were currently listed as MIA. Their deaths were unconfirmed yet, and would likely remain as such for some time. Nobody had seen their fighters blow up. Nonetheless, both must be dead by now. He tried to push the troubling thought away and to concentrate on what was at hand.

“Who the hell are you talking about now?” Klepth asked Lt. Eloui. “Who is Matt?”

“Matt, from the bridge. Ensign Matthew Turner. Y’know, the helmsman. He disappeared yesterday.”

“Oh, man. I’m out. I don’t get it. What has this got to do with it?” 2Pack inquired, annoyed. She’s talking wild, he deduced. Crazy talk.

What had the disappearance of a member of the bridge crew meant?… he froze… Vandermann!

“Yes, what has it got to do with it?” Mystique repeated the question and left it lingering in the room. It sunk into the heads of all present.

There was one question left—one question left torturing everybody’s soul: What the hell was going on?


TCS Valley Forge; Office of Lt. Cmdr. Coliver; CONFEDFLTINTEL
0632 Hours (CST)

“I could see the light of a blast -- an RPG, I could tell -- impacting on a structure. In the light of the explosion I saw shadows. Marines. They were running. Running away from the explosion. Away from me. I screamed. I ran. Then I saw the Marines’ LC. I yelled as loud as I fucking could. Ran my ass off as fast as I could. They did not hear me. Did not see me. There were lights flashing through the night sky. Flashes of all sorts. There were shots. And there were screams. Horrible screams. All for a very short period of time.

“Subsequently it was quiet again, only the wind in my ears. When I was only about thirty meters away, the LC clearly visible, the whole place went up. Turned into a sea of flames... lit up like a fucking Christmas tree, y’know? The blast deafened me... the heat singed my clothing... burned my skin…”

“What’s this? A bloody piece of horror fiction?”

Major Holmes forced a nervous thin smile at the Lieutenant Commander Ethan Coliver, the stoic-faced chief of Intell on the Forge -- the head “spook” aboard -- straightening the tunic of his jet black uniform. Major Celeste Holmes, from the Forge’s  contingent of medical officers, was psychologist, psycho-land PSI-analyst, and was in consequence covering as psychiatrist. She was the ship’s shrink.

Coliver had seen numerous reports of all kind in his fifteen years of service in ConFedFleetIntell... but none like this before. He scanned the head of the report once again. This record presented the statements of Lance Corporal Leon Stevens made in an interview an hour ago, an interview that Corporal Stevens had requested of Major Holmes. Evidently uncomfortable, the jarhead had confessed that he could not deal with that strange experience of his. He had wanted to share it with someone and had asked for help voluntarily.

But what am I to do about it? Coliver asked himself.

“Why are you coming to me with this? What do you want me to do with this… this…” He forced himself to hold back his temper. This was no Intell stuff. This was a fairy tale. Not his job.

“Sir, with all due respect, where else could I go with it?” Major Holmes answered.

“And you say he claims all this has happened to a 2nd Lt. Mo ‘Voodoo’ Ayibobo in the White Hope Squadron?”

There was no discernible reaction from the Major.

“Barring fantasy-becomes-reality, surely he must have dreamed it,” Coliver went on, stating what common sense would seem to dictate. "Perhaps the result of some kind of trauma, one would think, yes? Lord knows there's enough of it around these halls."

“Look, hear me out—it was in a Marine LC, with seventeen of his men around, on the way from Neph II back to the Forge?” Holmes responded. “Sir?”

“Is that what he claims?”

“It’s all in the report.”

“Yes, I read it, and I damn well know what’s in it. You want me to read it again? Christ…” He exhaled heavily. “Your evaluation, please, and do you mind telling me what you left out of the official word?”

“Not sure, sir. He describes everything in such detail. Why should he be lying or playing a game? I know how ridiculous this all sounds. But we have no reason to not assume that he is saying the truth. On the other hand we have no way of knowing that what he says is true.”

“But we cannot verify it,” the Lt. Commander said sternly. “Not definitively.”

“Which means we can’t rule it out, either,” the Major argued.

“We jumped out this morning. We cannot go back anymore,” the Intell officer countered.

“The only fact we have here is that 2nd Lt. Mo ‘Voodoo’ Ayibobo, pilot registry number C-904495, is ‘Missing In Action,’” the psychoanalyst opposed yet again. “That’s the official line.”

“Hell, I’ll eat a bloody rug if he is still alive. There is nobody down there now. Just irradiated bug corpses all over the place. ‘Secondary Objective,’ remember?”

Holmes kept quiet.

This was ridiculous. But Coliver was someone who would examine even the most absurd indication and follow it through to his utmost satisfaction. Right this trace could be the hidden path, the key to the issue. Most certainly you are right about only a few things in life. All others tend to hide their true nature behind a mask, if not several masks. The great majority of things are not what they seem to be in the first place. Long years of service in the Intelligence business -- through TCIB, TCIA, and ultimately the much broader TCIS -- had taught him well,  and this he had learned.... and he had learned it the hard way. So what if… he played on just for the sake of it. He would at least know what most likely happened to LC Three, then. He shook his head. This is insane.

Coliver exhaled heavily, yet again.

“Very well, here is what we do,” Commander Coliver decided, “This is not much, but I regret all we can at this point. You are going to investigate further by digging out what you can. Start with talking to his squadronmates. This is not to be an interrogation -- certainly not a formal one—but we will be damned if we are not able to come up with a simple answer to this one. There is already enough spooking around.”

In spite of his decision, Coliver looked undecided. Major Holmes wanted to leave when the Intell officer cleared his throat.

“Sir,” Holmes acknowledged attentively.

The Lieutenant Commander hesitated for a second before he spoke. “Can I have an honest word with you?”

“Sir...?” Holmes replied curiously.

“Do your diggings quietly. I don’t want a big fuss made of it, if you take my meaning. Do we understand?”

“I think I do, sir. Ah, don’t I?”

A naïve one, indeed, Coliver mused. He was used to it.  “Ah well, I do not want the Captain and the First to know about it. See that the WC, too, if at all possible doesn’t get word of anything. There is conspiracy theory enough about these decks.”

There was something special about Vandermann and Schaefer; a connection. He did not know what it was yet. Both played their roles -- whatever they were -- to a “T.” One thing he knew for sure however was that there had been recordings of the ground operations of both LCs on Neph II. LC Three’s footage came through totally scrambled. That had been the official version. But Coliver would not be Coliver if he did not at least try to do his job. Too often since coming aboard, he had been forced to take an outside role and he could have sworn things just weren't adding up.

Nothing got him more upset. Nothing got him more on the ball. The Intell officer had attempted to access the files of LC Three’s transmission on his own. He had found something -- “Executive Override.” As far as Colonel Natasha Trebek was concerned, he hadn’t suspected the resolute Wing Commander of the 71st FW at all. A clue to any suspicion of Trebek -- probably unfounded, but justifiable nonetheless -- was the fact that her service record was as open to interpretation as Vandermann’s and Schaefer’s were gappy.

“I’ll see to it, sir!” Holmes acknowledged, quite uncertain whether she really understood why.

“Thank you. And keep me posted of everything you find out.”


TCS Valley Forge; Captain’s Cabin
0757 Hours (CST)

“But, Captain, I -- ”

“That will be all, Commander. Return to your post.”

“Very well, sir. But my concerns stand.”

“Noted and logged -- now do as I say.”

“Yes, sir.”

With that, Vandermann was left alone now in his day cabin... and he was in trouble. 

Things were not going his way. It was not going well, not as planned. Schaefer was becoming rebellious, if not openly yet. The Captain was contemplating the latest events, but his train of thought quickly drifted off. Drifted back to times long gone. Struggling with the voices in his head, with ghosts of the past and with his own past he heard a voice again. One he had not heard for a very long time. It was the voice of the Old Man; not his father again, but The Father.

“Fortune is notoriously fickle, and it is dangerous to expect every crisis to be resolved through benevolent interdiction, or luck,” he could still hear him saying, full of justifiable arrogance and showmanship as he spoke -- words taken from a distinguished speech in Axius given in front of his protégés.

Yes, Tolwyn. The late Space Marshal Sir Geoffrey Tolwyn, the hero of the Battle of Terra and a number of conflicts beginning with the McAuliffe Ambush of ’34 at the start of the First Kilrathi War and backbone of the Black Lance that had hung himself in custody not because he’d felt guilty or remorse for what he’d done (as the author of Geoff’s flawed recent biography had written), but rather in self-punishment for his failure to see The Plan through to a point that it was self-sufficient. He had adored this man, his genius. The Old Man had seen things no one else had seen, dared see, or would ever see again. He had been too far ahead of his time; a categorically remarkable man. The savior of mankind, yet such a tragic figure in the end. All the ones outside had misunderstood him.

How could he have failed? Why? Why, oh why had he failed?

Vandermann recalled the day he met the Admiral again on board the KIS Karga still -- later renamed the FRLS Mjollnir -- that followed Behemoth. They have had conversation for hours on the won war, on the Kilrathi, on the future of humanity, on order and civil duty. He knew now that Tolwyn had tested him then. First he had told him of the conspiracy, the Belisarius Group. Vandermann had soaked it all in like a dry sponge. So Tolwyn did not stop there. He told him of the other plan, the one within the first. The Genetic Enhancement program. Vandermann was shocked as he was fascinated at the same. Bio-Convergence, the idea of programming physiological changes into the human species. And Genetic Enhancement was the leading element.

“We must create a united, focused species… we have to be united towards the speeding of our evolution and producing a higher order of intellect and physique capable waging and winning wars against the galaxy’s best. If we don’t, we’ll be… extinct…” Vandermann called to mind some more passages from Tolwyn’s speech. This was the ultimate objective. G.E. was the way to go. The Overman. How the new path was to be treaded was yet a different issue. A much neglected one all the more.

Indeed, he mused, it turns up that it was critical to where you had laid the emphasis. Notwithstanding the often quoted unity, no agreement had there been on how to put The Plan and subsequently The Movement into action. The initial idea, borne of the need to guarantee the survival of mankind, had just been to compensate the devastating losses of the war with the Kilrathi. The G.E. offspring was to be used as cannon fodder. Analysis of this first plan revealed that it would not work. They could not bring up such superior soldiers, keep them separated and isolated in order to throw them before the enemy’s guns... they were humans still. The public moral outrage that just the mentioning of this idea would have caused… not to think of.

No. It would have alike meant the closing down of any and all black projects for good if only this idea had gone public. So one came up with raising them separately indeed, breeding a distinctly new race. This race was set off of on a new world. Away from the currently human explored space. Coreward, to where even more fierce and superior races were presumed, the Mantu and Steltek being only two of which. The Plan would act as a protective shield for the human worlds, but it would mean leaving the Kilrathi borders unprotected. Most importantly to note for The Plan it, would have meant, for most intents and purposes, to abandon Earth. That, too, would have been unacceptable.

A frightening notion flickered through his head. What if this plan had been carried out in the end, nonetheless that is was dropped? When he had prepared his “transfer” back into Confed in the last weeks of the Black Lance he had seen some of the very last lists. Vandermann knew of several names, even of ships, that had been on neither list. They were not on the Black Lance’s nor Confed’s reports on the hunted-down remains of their Plan. In addition, Vandermann had a deep enough inside insight to know of a failsafe “Doomsday” plan to evacuate Earth, an endeavor that had been very real in ’69. It had been that hot that even TNC had got wind of it, though in fact they had known nothing... only what those within The Plan wanted them to. TNC had not had the faintest notion of The Plan’s true character; its true nature.

Next there was Tolwyn, with his vision to reengineer the whole human race. And Tolwyn did not waste much time. He was not in for slight genetic enhancements and to give them time to develop which would have been most closest to the natural evolution. No, Tolwyn wanted the whole damn program. Everything that his megalomaniac scientist believed to be achievable. And he wanted it fast -- he wanted it now. Enforced. He did not think to have much time left. Moreover, he deemed the time to be only right. Was it that he was afraid he would not live long enough to see it through? Was it that Tolwyn wanted to push The Plan over its point-of-no-return? Was it that Tolwyn wanted to become the savior of the human race? To be the one who saved Earth in the Battle of Terra was not enough for him. Not after Behemoth, anyway, and the humiliation it wrought. Vandermann sensed that Tolwyn really wanted to become that man. It was his utter strive he had worked his whole life for after the loss of his wife and two sons. He did it not for himself alone, but in humanity’s good name. Tolwyn believed that it was his duty -- more, his manifest destiny, and that he was the only one chosen for that job. Never Tolwyn would have stepped down. Never he would have resigned.

Fighting to the last—he would succeed or die in trying. That much was always to be admired about the man, begrudged by no one.

But the Geoff Tolwyn Vandermann had found in charge of the Strategic Readiness Agency had not been the Geoff Tolwyn he had once known and looked up to. The one he had met in the Landreich. Not the former commander of the Third and Fourteenth Fleets. The esteemed Chief of Fleet Operations. Not the protégé of the legendary likes of Spencer “Skip” Banbridge and Winston Turner. Certainly not the one who had dragged him into this whole thing and certainly not the coolly detached strategist with a razor-sharp intellect, yet with a heart and a soul underneath the rough skin. In the SRA he had met a true believer who had lost his rational perception as a young man, a cadet in as early as the Pilgrim Wars. A spin doctor. One who used, abused and manipulated people for his goals. Goals that made use of more and more perverted instruments. Measures that were outrageous.

Moral outrage, though, Tolwyn had lost long before.

Admiral Tolwyn had his many followers. Followers who were all to eager to carry out the most outrageous operations in his name. Under those fundamental followers were not too few for who Tolwyn’s actions were not far-reaching, not radical enough. Men like Seether. Who’s understanding of The Plan was yet a different one. Seether stood for a new breed of Overman, of which he had been one of the First Generation’s successful prototypes. The successful creation of the First Generation marked a breakthrough for The Plan and set its kick-off in late ’72. The First Generation was an integral part and it was programmed to perform accordingly. Seether, together with his fellow eugenics-borne goons in the organization known in ConFleet records of the Black Projects Division as only “Unit 212,” quickly came to dominate the project. Vandermann had never met a man more unscrupulous than Seether. Appalled, Vandermann realized only now that Seether had been a human who had precious little left of what defines the word "human." The truth had been Seether was more a machine than a human being. Seether had cooperated with Tolwyn because he had needed him as the popular central figurehead. His good standing with Tolwyn gave him much freedom. Freedom he had secretly used to pursue his own ambitions. Brought up and nurtured with the omnipresent concept of being ultimately superior it was only right for him to dominate the inferiors. His plot had been to establish a Herrenvolk, a Master Race who would liberate the human race from all its ill, weak, and ineffective elements.

The idea of a Herrenvolk had been no new one. Several times before in the long history of the human civilization, fanatic idealism had attempted to institute a new world order. A very exemplary stab had been made in the 20th century on Earth’s old continent of Europe. It was in the heyday of imperialism. A war in Europe and a worldwide depression had weakened most countries on the continent. A small, yet radical party took over in Germany. This party and the institutions it created would manipulate and terrorize the whole German people. It was their conviction that it was the calling of the German people to better the world in unison with the characteristic of a so-called “Nordic Race,” the Master Race. To them the German people embodied a representative of this superior Nordic Race. In its very essence, in its very principle, an Overman. In order to level the way for a reign of the Master Race it would be essential to cleanse the world from all inferior races. Just six years later they would start an all-out war in Europe that quickly spread around Earth entirely. During this six-year raging war those fanatics perfected a internal homicide machinery that killed everyone who they thought to be degenerate. It was a genocide never preceded before nor followed after. They lost the then world war. Their system was smashed. Their endeavor left virtually the whole continent of Europe lay waste and up to about 55 million people dead worldwide.

Vandermann shook off this horror vision. This had been the Twentieth Century, an age long forgotten he viewed through the looking glass of his archaic knowledge and technology. Fortunately it did not come to that this century. Contrary to past shots, Seether had the power and the technology to accomplish his aspiration.

A game within a game… the layers within an onion; what others thought might be the ending was but a prelude to something vaster and darker…

Last but not least there were still elements of the former “Y-12,” the Belisarius Group, hidden within The Plan. Parts of the Trojan horse -- the scapegoat -- that had carried The Plan, the skull that had just functioned as cover and should have been crushed after the seed inside it was sowed had survived. Their aim had been still the same -- the establishment of a military regime. They thought The Plan just another instrument to overcome the civil government and to seize control. Only a military authority could keep mankind fit and vigilant was what they claimed. As a matter of fact they solely wanted to maintain their power and influence for the benefit of their own well-being. Indeed those of the Belisarius Group who were not terminated or had joint The Plan were nothing but bureaucrats. Moreover, they were disloyal, hence dangerous. The aptly feared to be an obstacle to The Plan which would have no place for pen pushers. Back then they were still needed. But their elimination it was only a question of time. Thus time was what they worked against.

Whatsoever, Vandermann thought wearily. The Belisarius Group had not confirmed our “fiasco” nor had Seether or all the other little plans within The Plan. Not that they all alone, to say the least. To a great part it had been the different understanding not so much of the ultimate aim of The Plan, but of the proper way to see to The Plan’s completion. The very hidden conspiracy, the plan within a plan, was so secret that simply too much was left unclear. Little things maybe, but little things that Tolwyn left others to interpret and misinterpret as they would. But has it always been the tiny, insignificant things that destroy the great schemes in mankind’s history? Vandermann mused. The secrecy of the conspiracy had proved to be both its utter advantage at the start as well as its final fault in the end.

Vandermann could see it clearly now. The plan within the plan had been corrupted... poisoned. The virus within the bacteria had been infected itself.

Along with this realization another came. The cause did not justify the course of action… the end did not justify the means. Tolwyn was wrong. The Plan had done bad things... terrible things.

So the evil does not win at last…

But he had been in the tick of it. In its name he had done... regrettable things, too. Vandermann realized this to more than a passing degree of horror as he at last received a clear picture of it for the first time, a realization that came to him in his first moment of clarity since the pills he had procured had run dry.

Eldon heard another voice again. The voice of his cursed father, forever the bane of his inner psyche again called out, again hounding him:

“Blood on your hands, Eldon -- blood on your hands!”

The role of a puppet he had been playing all his life, Vandermann was coming to realize. He hoped that one day he could find the strength to break free of his strings and at last take on the role of puppeteer.


“The smell of blood works its way into my dreams, which are, for the most part, terrible:
on an ocean liner that catches fire, witnessing volcanic ruptions…
the dead walk among the living.”
- American Psycho