: “ End of the Spiral ”




Inside the Kraken
0137 Hours (CST)

Darkness embraced Catharx as he dived underneath the huge body of the shipkiller. Kn'thrak. And he shuddered immediately. Almost in front of him the hangar bay. Still trying to stabilize his fighter's approach vector he fired some volleys at it. Nothing. No absorption. No rejection. No evidence of a force field or any energy curtain. Yet he had not witnessed his shots hitting something inside or to enter at all.

Some couple of eights of meters away from the entrance only, Catharx pondered. If this was it… Skabak, then so it be! He turned to his weapon array and armed the one and only nuke his fighter was carrying. He would blow up the Kraken from the inside. Kabaka. The warm and rewarding thought of the glorious death started to run through his body. Just before his fighter was to pass the hangar bay entrance it experienced a momentary failure in its primary power supply. The fighter went off course immediately colliding with the right hangar door. Catharx reaction to the flight controls had been instantly, but to absolutely no avail. Just when the power system was back online a moment later he would see the reaction. The Bloodfang had come in too fact and at an angle. It slammed hard onto the flight deck. Leaped forcefully forward the length of its size. Catharx perceived this only in disorientating glimpses. A dark shape on the left. He pulled the trigger. BANG! His fighter had hit it. It spun around. Hit the flight deck once again. Sparks flying. Guns firing. The Bloodfang slithered along the deck like a thunderstorm turned twister.

Grroarr! Catharx voice rose because of the adrenaline thrill together with his self-made firestorm to become a thunder. Explosions, fire and destruction all around him. Bugs shrieking, burning, dying.

The Bloodfang slowed and finally came to a stop while the blaze outside died down. Catharx calmed down a bit while checking his fighter's status. It was a mess. While he had power again and still, there was a flickering in the displays of various sub-systems, many of which either down or heavily damaged. He switched off the irritating alarm sound. Something was amiss. It took him a while to realize what it was. He was still alive. That meant that his nuclear warhead had not gone off. He double-checked weapons. The system was fried. He would have to blow the warhead manually.

He geared up, opened the hatch and stepped onto the deck. The Kilrathi straightened up coming from underneath his Bloodfang when he was faced with a Nephilim who must have survived the fire inferno. This bug was even towering over the cat's reasonably impressive size. Catharx was just looking up to face his opponent when the bug threw one of his long hard limbs at him. The Kilrathi barely managed to parry the attack with his left paw purely by reflex. The sharp edge of the bug's limb however cut deep into the cat's flesh. Instantly Catharx grabbed his Dor-Chak Mk II sidearm and blew the bug's head away, the weapon bucking back as greenish goo spilled all over him.

"Vraxar!" he cried out loud and infuriated. He slammed his wounded arm again his helmet, cursing. Blood, his blood, ran down it, reducing visibility. It made him check his instrument panel, which confirmed the atmosphere outside to be breathable.

Harakh! To hell with the nuke, as maybe Murdoch would have expressed it. Fate had brought him here and alive. Catharx would fight the enemy the traditional way. Huma ta humas!

Still cursing but focused again he returned momentarily to his fighter to take off his helmet and to bring his Xark Blade along. He used a minute to orient himself. Then the Xark Blade, named after an ancient prey-species the Kilrathi once hunted, bare handed in the beginning, later using a blade too that then got its name from there, right and the Dor-Chak, his clan's version of a Mark Two model of the multifunction weapon, in his left pawed hand Catharx charged for the door in front of him next to his fighter.


A dark corridor inside the Kraken
0141 Hours (CST)

Catharx's felinoid eyes had quickly adjusted to the dim light. He had advanced some ten eights of meters into the passage when he stopped. Off in the dark he had heard some moaning. Human moaning. Creeping roughly a further eight meters he stopped anew. There was a faint glow coming from the wall to his left. It was not the wall gleaming. Instead the radiance shone through the wall that was somewhat translucent at this part. The Kilrathi sneaked by and found an opening in that wall. Wanting to enter Catharx touched the frame and immediately withdrew. A slimy and reeking mass covered his paw. Growling faintly in disgust he shook it off. Carefully not touching the slime that coated the whole frame he entered the chamber. It was not much lighter in here despite the luminosity that Catharx could not make out where exactly it was coming from. Yet the room was perceptibly warmer. It was rather compact with stationary bulky masses standing or rather hanging off the walls. The walls themselves seemed to be alive and throbbing. Before Catharx could explore the room any further he became aware of something coming up from behind. Quickly like only a cat could he turned around, but because the air in here was thicker and hence had softened all noise, he had lost most of the advantage of his good hearing and fast reactions. He faced the Nephilim already standing in the opening just behind him. A claw reached for his face. He held off the attack with his Xark blade this time and slew the bug with the Dor-Chak's one-meter torch cutting through its thorax. He put his head into the corridor. More bugs where hurrying down from the far end. Trapped inside the chamber Catharx began to retreat backwards towards the opposite wall keeping an eye on the opening. While moving back he touched one of the bulky masses. Slimy too, though there had been a change on the surface of it however. A movement. The giving off of a moan. Yet again Catharx had no time to bother as just then the Nephilim had arrived in the opening. He let loose with his Dor-Chak laser rifle, which he had set to short-range, wide-beam modus. This modus was best for about eight meter distances with a decent two meters spread at the end. The insectoid Nephilim were torn apart one after one. Bugs guts gushing.

It was a massacre. The thrill of the blood frenzy let Catharx emit a battle cry, but the otherwise thundering voice was deadened to a muffled rolling noise because of the thick and heavy air of the chamber. The opening was jammed in no time, preventing more bugs from entering the chamber.

Catharx, now locked inside, had reached the opposite wall. He turned around. Searching. There was no opening here. Activating his rifle's one-meter torch he tried to cut a whole into the wall. The wall seemed to absorb the beam, even to eat it. The slim on it swelled. Grew thicker. The wall itself flickering. Catharx cut hurriedly. When he turned back Nephilim were inside the chamber. They must have cleared the opening or found another way in. Already they were standing in the only exit of the corner the Kilrathi was in. Partly he received cover from one of the stationary masses close by. It also confined him to this tight spot.

Immediately Catharx resumed firing. Again insectoid limbs were cut off and sent flying all over the place. The dying and wounded Nephilim produced high-pitched sounds that cut through even the chambers heavy air. Bringing all his weight and power to bear the massive Kilrathi threw himself against the wall he had just tried to cut a whole into. But to no avail.

A claw was slashing at him. Catharx moved. The claw sliced the outer side of his right arm and bored itself deep into the wall. He lifted the blade in this other arm and beheaded the bug. Greenish gunk spewing out of its wincing thorax. He jumped up just to duck down again as another bug's claw slashed right across the air leaving a long cut in the wall behind Catharx. The Kilrathi followed with a roll forward, landing on his knees below the Nephilim. He flung back his rifle attached to a belt around his waist. Taking the blade in both hands he executed a series of rapid sword moves chopping off the bug’s rear limbs. Rolling sideways he avoided the arachnid warrior's lower body crashing down on him. Catharx finished his move with a 180-degree rotation. Lifting his blade vertically the Kilrathi remove the upper right limb. And swirling around before the bug he cut down on the remaining limb. Catharx only briefly caught a glimpse into the hideous jaws of the stripped bug directly in front of him. Its multifaceted eyes starring coldly at him. But revealing nothing. He pulled up his Dor-Chak and blew its ugly face off and all over him at the same time. Groarrr! That was not exactly as planned.

Amidst and trough the bug's brain spray Catharx could barely see the dark mass approaching before the Nephilim hit him. Being thrust against the wall behind him the force of the impact was that powerful that he was halfway shoved through the cut the other bug had left there. It took the Kilrathi a moment to become aware of this. Upon realization of the fact he blasted the bug that had rammed him into the wall. Then twisted his body back and forth. Kicked and pressed with his legs. Finally he slipped through.

He found himself in a great hall. Its roughly three eight meters high ceiling was entirely dark and supported by several cone-shaped pillars standing in no particular order. Here too were bugs. Yet because the surrounding was more spacious Catharx found it easier to hunt them down. He checked the power supply of his Dor-Chak. It was still good for another 10 minutes use before he had to replace it. Taking both his weapons, blade and laser rifle, in one hand each, he started to clear the immediate perimeter around him.

Moving in no particular direction he came to enjoy the delight of slaying his enemies yet again. An Enemy who had murdered his son, his hrai and who he blamed to have murdered his one and only human takhar. He was all wrapped up in his personal revenge which he had sought after for so long.

In mid-movement the Kilrathi suddenly caught glimpse of a blade. Another blade. He slew the Nephilim to his right. He dropped the one to his left. Then he executed the bug in front of him. Catharx found himself standing before a HUMAN. A single human standing there both arms brought before his right shoulder holding a blade upright. Waiting. Taken aback at first Catharx needed some moments to pick up when the attack came. The Dor-Chak took a hit, cutting off a part of its front end. The human sword had simply cut through it as if his weapon was made of wax. He let go of the useless weapon and turned to his Xark blade. The assaults came in rapid sequences. Catharx struggled to keep up with the pace. Also his opponent’s moves were precise as they were fatal. In the Kilrathi slowly grew a sense of concern. So far he had merely countered. His mind was chewing over the fact how the human had come here and why he was here in the first place. What did he want? He was not unknown to Catharx. That was what made it so much more incomprehensible and mysterious. It was unmistakably clear that this human opposite of him was a member of his battle group Auriga. He was a squadron commander there. CO of the Aztecs Major Hishori Nawazaki. But the Major should have been out in space flying BARCAP to protect the group. Instead the Major was in here. A notice of doubt crept up. No, this cannot be. Catharx was sure of his senses. He had tried drugs before. He knew he could always tell the difference. This was Major Nawazaki. He needed to concentrate entirely on the battle at hand. The humans had a saying that would fit the situation: Shoot first, ask questions later.

Ten minutes into the fight Catharx had recovered some ground. He was launching counter attacks. So far with little success. He however was masked with several scratches and gashes. One slightly above his right eye was becoming a nuisance. The area around the eye was swollen. Blood was dripping into his eye. He had to blink it away every time it happened. On the other hand tasting his own blood which was trickling down his right cheek on his tongue had his kaga inspired and his senses sharpened. Still his breath had become heavy and his fur had become soaked with sweat too.

The human's face was sweat ridden as well. Yet his skin remained pale and his breath calm. Fury kindled in the Kilrathi. How could that hairless ape withstand him so long? Seemed to be so composed, detached, superior even. Like a machine. He did not underestimate humans like the Kilrathi had done in the wars with the Terrans. He had come to acknowledge of what they were capable to bear. Yet this here was definitely beyond that. Evading the human's sword move he slammed his body against him. Before full contact though the human had brought his sword around and slashed Catharx’s side. The might of his impacting weight sent the human to ground. Quickly the Kilrathi attacked inflicting a long gash across the human’s right side. The move had not been terminal only because the Major had roll away at the last split second. He was already standing and performing a crosswise assault with his sword. Catharx swirled around but the second strike cut deep into his right shoulder. The Kilrathi roared like a wild beast with all his might. He was severely hit. The blade slid from his hands. He sunk onto his knees. Like a wild beast he reached out with his big left paw and got hold of the human. The claws ripped across the human’s right thigh as he was whirling away. His following sword inflicted another cut on Catharx’ left arm. Yet suddenly Catharx had grabbed his blade and was up on his feet again. He drove the blade into his opponent as he came out of his spin. Both were face to face now. Catharx' face distorted by anger and pain, Nawazaki's an expressionless mask still, the human slumped down. Catharx was forced to withdraw his blade. Nawazaki used this moment to strike at the Kilrathi's legs. Not being able to fend off the assault the human's Tachi sword tore into the Kilrathi's flesh. Groaning, Catharx managed to get his blade free and roll away. When he looked up the human was standing again and attacking, his sword moving down on him. Catharx rolled around 45 degrees. The sword coming down on him once more. He continued to roll around in a circle with Nawazaki's sword striking down. He was hit several times on head, shoulders and upper body. There was no escape that way. Then Catharx rotated around his own centre but the other way. With his feet coming around he knocked Nawazaki off his. Both either because feeling the end near or simply by reflexes were up on their feet in no time. Each bringing their blades into position. Then they stood face to face another time. Starring at each other. Both were bleeding profusely. Seconds passed away like hours when Nawazaki began to cough, vomiting blood. Both looked down. Catharx blade ran right through the middle of Nawazaki's chest. Nawazaki's blade was sitting in Catharx left waist, trailing down a path on the Kilrathi's armor where it miraculously had not penetrated his chest plate.

"What… is going on...?" he garbled.

Catharx backed away.

Nawazaki fell to his knees. As his vision turned red, its perspective changed. He felt a sudden wild fear and clutched at the Kilrathi's blade. He remembered. All of it. He panicked. What he had done aboard the Hades, his wingman… the chamber! He had been there! He had helped them! He threw up. A jellylike mixture of red and green. But he’d had no control of it. He had not done any thinking. He had known what was going on, but that had been all. What had he done? The unthinkable. He had lost all honor. ALL HONOR! It was unbearable. All he could only think of was to regain as much honor as was left for him to gain.

With a suppressed grunting Nawazaki pulled the Kilrathi's blade out his chest. He fell forward. Resting there for a moment he struggled to straighten once more.

"Help me…" he looked over to Catharx.

Help? He is dying. How can I still help him? He hesitated. That was it! He was asked to help him die. Catharx now remembered that from the thousands of cultures throughout the history of the humans there had been one most interesting to him: That of the Samurai. Their way of thinking, of rituals, of codices was in many aspects not unlike the Kilrathi's. The Samurai had a form of ritual suicide they called Seppuku to regain honor that was lost. That he could understand. This moment Catharx felt with the dishonored Samurai.

He would help.

"My sword…" Nawazaki pressed.

Nawazaki grabbed after the sword, which Catharx had picked up and was still holding. Nawazaki's hands directed how the Kilrathi should place the sword.

"I am familiar with this ceremony," Catharx announced reassuringly. Both positioned the sword vertically top down against Nawazaki's stomach.

"Hold it firmly," Nawazaki looked at him. The eyes of a human, Catharx noted to his comfort. Reading in them. A deep understanding ensued.

Nawazaki leaned forward against the Kilrathi as the sword impaled him. Calm and peace came upon the human's face.

In the following few seconds several things happened simultaneously.

Catharx became aware again of the many Nephilim that surrounded him. At the same time he realized that he did not want to die. Not today. Not here. His honor was not lost. His thirst for revenge had been satisfied. Dying here was a sacrifice through which nothing would be gained.

At once he was hit against the head and fell to the side. Turning on his back he saw a bug that was bigger and different than the others. The bug attacked by putting a claw right through his thigh. Desperately Catharx grabbed his Dor-Chak. Holding it away at the bug he blasted a big hole into it, his gun blowing apart all together. He threw what was left of it at the remains of that bug, lucky not to have killed himself now that he wanted to live. However the arachnid had hit him severely. Catharx looked down at the terrible hole in his leg where bright arterial blood gushed. Would he still make it? He looked up and around. There were bugs everywhere. They were coming for him.

"Sharvath!" he cursed. He should have followed Nawazaki's example. Now it was too late. He would never get to finish the rite. In a matter of a few seconds they would be over him.

But they were not. They froze. All of them. The Nephilim stopped moving as if somebody had stopped the time itself. But it was not so. Time continued. His time. Time to live, time to strive, time to escape. At least try to.

Catharx had stopped trying to understand. The whole endeavor, this boarding the Kraken, had already been one hell of a trip. The Kilrathi tried to stop the blood with his hands. A futile effort. He then used great parts of the cloth he was wearing. Not being able to stand up, he crawled desperately, dragging his useless leg, towards the gate nearby.


Before even he had witnessed it too, he had felt it. A presence. Even though he had never felt it or anything like it before this one was not new to him. When the Nephilim then froze in their actions he was almost certain. But he did not need to guess. The presence introduced itself to him. And to him alone he felt as he understood that it hid in disguise. It did not tell him so yet as it used the conducts of the Nephilim (it said so, he would not know), but was operating against them (again it told to do, but he trusted it), he figured so.

Voodoo. Nawazaki had thought he was dead. Well, maybe in a way he was that. He guessed his body might be. Whatever he was now, he was here. In addition he was not one of them. But why had he come? To rescue him? This had failed before. On Neph II. Yet now Nawazaki was not making fun of him like the last time. As if he had read his mind Voodoo told him that he was not strong and confident enough to challenge them openly. He was merely exploring still, comprehending for the most and testing his bounds. But he was fascinated by his new powers and of what he shared with him Nawazaki could see that he had already learned a lot about the Nephilim. How their culture worked and what was driving them. The Harvest… Instantly he realized his own role in that vicious circle. Never would I … What a coincidence that he had met the Kilrathi Kalahn who he had freed him of this, his purpose. His purpose for them. One that he would never had himself committed to if he had not been their slave.

Voodoo's presence, a former brother in arms and still, gave both comfort and new strength to him. With both hands firmly he seized his Tachi sword and finished the Seppuku moving the sword left beneath his ribs causing his intestines and innards to fall from the cut.

As life was leaving him he died as a free man who had his honor restored.


Somewhere inside the Kraken
0145 Hours (CST)

Catharx growled in pain as his dragging leg snagged on the prone corpse of a Nephilim warrior drone he’d killed just minutes before, sending new waves of agony through his ruined thigh. The crudely applied tourniquet had, hopefully, prevented him from dying of exsanguination (in the next couple of eights of minutes, at least) but did nothing to dull the pain. But pain, unlike loss of blood, would not stop the lowliest Kil warrior, let alone the head of a noble house such as Catharx.

What was more worrying and infuriating for the Kilrathi was that he was still alive at all. Why hadn’t that fool Murdoch destroyed the Kraken and him with it by now?


TCS Hades; CIC
0145 Hours (CST)

Commodore Garrison Murdoch was wrestling with that same question himself at that very moment. Something in his gut held him back from ordering the Hades to close with and destroy the Kraken. It wasn’t the fact that there were still Nephilim fighters protecting her, including a few of the dreaded Devil Rays that frustratingly seemed to have escaped all attempts to destroy them, though that factored into it -- but some deep impulse he couldn’t put his finger on. Unlike some officers, who seemed to think emotion was something to leave out of any and all decisions, Garrison knew that it was those same emotions that made him human, something he was immensely and perhaps unfashionably proud of. He played his hunches, and, from time to time, he had to admit -- let anger cloud his judgment. Screw it; he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Maybe it was a nagging resentment that that bloody Kat had managed to contrive a heroic death for himself, and probably an immortal eulogy in one of their damn sagas, knowing full well Murdoch had to go back and possibly face a court martial.

“That damn Cat probably died with a smile on his face,” Murdoch snarled angrily. Enough was enough -- those last couple of Devil Rays weren’t enough to stop them ending things right now. He was about to give the orders when he realized that someone had said something to him.

“Pardon?” Murdoch raised an eyebrow.

“Sir, I said that if you mean Catharx... I think he’s still alive.”

“What the hell are you going on about? We saw him kamikaze into that big ugly fucking bug!”

“His IFF transponder -- there’s still a signal.”

“He ejected?” Garrison was taken aback, “I didn’t think -- “

“No, sir, it’s not a SARBE beacon, it’s an IFF signal from his fighter. It’s faint, but it’s there.”

“Where?” Murdoch demanded.

“It seems to be inside the Kraken, sir.”

“Well I’ll be god fucking damned,” Murdoch gave a snort somewhere between a laugh of admiration and a grunt of disgust. Shaking his head in disbelief (at his own actions as much as the Kilrathi’s) he said, “Fine. We’ll give the big furry bastard five more minutes. If he isn’t out by then, it’s his funeral.” Literally. “Vector the Dark Broods to give him cover. The state his fighter was in the last time I saw it, he’ll bloody need it.”


Inside the Kraken
0149 Hours (CST)

Catharx himself was in rather a worse state than his battered fighter. He hobbled along as quickly as he could, still wondering why there weren’t more of the bugs coming to attack him, or why the few he saw were ignoring him. He tried to recall helpful advice from the Codices -- anything to take his mind off his shattered leg. He grinned -- a bionic limb would be a war-wound he could brag about! This tale would be told for years to come by him and his descendants.

It had taken him minutes to crawl and hobble a distance he could normally have run in as many seconds. As he got to the foot of his Bloodfang's boarding ladder, he discarded the snapped-off Nephilim limb he’d been using as a makeshift crutch. The ichor and slime from it clung to him as he hauled his bulk up the ladder. The Kil’s nose wrinkled in disgust, but it couldn’t be helped. He hardly had time to stop and clean himself off. Replacing his helmet and selecting full oxygen from his life support helped push back the grey tunnel that threatened to engulf him. He had to think hard to remember the start-up sequence. Loss of blood was taking its toll on him.

By miracle or fate, the fighter’s reactor was still in the green. He had enough hydraulic pressure to operate the controls and about 80% power to most systems. The autorepair had even managed to restore some shields. The skidding crash of the belly-landing he’d made had also, by some chance of fate, left the nose of the Kilrathi fighter pointing toward space. If it hadn’t, Catharx would have had little chance of getting the big fighter turned around, the undercarriage still being folded inside the fighter. The chitinous surface of the landing bay seemed fairly hard and smooth. With luck (how much more luck could even a cat have, after using what seemed like all nine lives?) the Bloodfang would have enough thrust to propel itself in a sled-like fashion as far as the hangar opening.

Catharx slipped off the brakes, pushed the throttle forward and tried to keep the damaged craft pointing in a straight line as it accelerated toward the hangar doors and the blackness beyond.

The Bloodfang leapt into the vacuum and Catharx roared his defiance as he escaped. He tried to control the battered fighter, but he couldn’t get it to fly in a straight line. It was pointless, but he selected the Shrak’har on his navicomp and tried to steer for her. Rolling and yawing madly, the fighter made it’s labored way toward the Cat cruiser, but it was no good. Warning lights erupted across the board. His hydraulics and cooling systems had failed simultaneously. There was nothing for it, he would have to eject.

Catharx pushed himself back into his seat and braced for the shock of the rocket motor firing. Even though he was ready for the brutal acceleration, its intensity took him by surprise, but he dare not pass out. He knew that the tiredness he felt was from loss of blood, and if he gave into it he would wall asleep, and he knew that meant death. He started to recite the codices to keep himself alert, awake and alive so he could survive to meet a more heroic death in the future.


TCS Hades; CIC
0151 Hours (CST)

The bulbous bulk of the alien ship hung motionless in space like the Goodyear Blimp on a windless day. All eyes were upon it. Other than the background hum of fans cooling electronic machinery, silence accompanied this scene.

The comms officer attempted to cough politely and thereby draw the attention of commodore Murdoch, but nervousness caught the tentative clearing of the throat in a stranglehold and only a dry wheezy croak escaped his lips. Nevertheless, Garrison Murdoch turned his head to bring his intense gaze to bear on the hapless ensign.

"Kalahn Catharx is safely aboard the Hades, sir."

"Very good," Murdoch acknowledged before turning his attention back to the main screen. "Let’s get on with our assigned mission to test this vessel and her weaponry, shall we?” A pause for effect. “You may fire at will."


TCS Nagato; Gunnery
0153 Hours (CST)

The darkened control room lit up with the explosion of the Kraken on the main viewscreen. The gunners erupted with cheers that were ear splitting in that confined space. Vaughn simply said, “Good shooting,” quietly. Then he fumbled for his hip flask and gulped down the entire contents in one go.


TCS Hades; CIC
0155 Hours (CST)

Should anyone have paused, amid the jubilant celebrations, to observe Commodore Garrison Murdoch, they might have been puzzled as to why they did not behold a man fitting the image of the Victorious Hero. Surely Wellington had not looked so grim and fell, so… apprehensive and pensive, so disturbed as this when he has vanquished Napoleon on the field of Waterloo? Yet who would notice, amidst the backslapping, whooping, cheering and high-fiving? Who would notice that Murdoch had the air of a worried general upon the eve of battle, rather than that of the conquering hero after it?

Perhaps Ethan Coliver, upon who Murdoch’s gaze had fallen? Would he feel those eyes burning into the back of his neck, turn and see the anxiety on the face of the commodore? Wonder why he was staring so intently at him? No. Murdoch dipped his gaze to his breast pocket and pulled forth a cigar, the last of his supply. He drew the stogie beneath his nose, savoring the rich aroma before biting off the end and jamming it in his mouth to ignite it. Taking a long, deep drag when it was burning freely, he tilted his head back and blew a ring of smoke at the ceiling. The tension slid from his face and his composure returned.

“Cancel Red Alert and start the recovery cycle. Get them all back aboard. Battle Stations is now cancelled, and I’ll be in my quarters if anyone needs me.”

Coliver may not have noticed Murdoch’s mood, but Kenyan Tromba had. He’d known him longer and far more closely. Following Murdoch he caught up to him by the turbolifts.

“Commodore -- Gary -- sir…”

“Spit it out, Kenyan.”

“What’s wrong? Don’t bullshit me; you’re worried about something. We won, what’s the problem?”

“I’m guilty of mutiny, treason, theft of Confed property, disobeying orders and probably another dozen charges they could think up. Worse, you and the rest of the crew could be charged, too.”

“You said they’d never dare court-martial us if we came home heroes. I believed you.”

“Maybe, maybe not, but there’s a million other ways they can fuck us over. Cut from the service over some other trumped-up charge, a posting to some shitty little asshole of the universe posting, career stalled, blacklisted. Maybe even nasty accidents. Don’t think we’ve got away with this yet. Not unless we have something on them. There’s something they’re not telling us about the loss of the Valley Forge.”


Murdoch snorted, smoke billowing from his nostrils like some fire-breathing dragon. “I don’t know -- yet. But you don’t put on that farcical inquiry if you haven’t got something to hide. I intend to find out what it was. They’re hiding something, something big, and if we find out what, I bet they don’t dare try to fuck us.”

“Blackmail them, you mean?”

“Of course!” Murdoch grinned. “Politics, my boy, politics!” With that, he closed the turbolift door and left Tromba with his own worries.

The turbolift filled quickly with smoke as Murdoch dragged deeply on his shortening cigar, his mind working on the problem. What exactly had happened on the Forge during her last, fatal few minutes? More to the point, what had happened before that to bring it to that fate? If he were to get to the bottom of it, he needed to do it before they returned home, so he’d have the ammunition and partly because he knew the witnesses would be scattered to the far ends of the galaxy when they hit port.

Murdoch plucked the cigar from his mouth and with the thumb of the same hand pressed the “push-to-talk” button on the lift comm. “This is the Commodore. E-mail me the transcripts of the Forge inquiry and ask Coliver to come to my quarters as soon as possible, please.

One battle was over. Another was just beginning.


TCS Hades; Flight Deck
0201 Hours (CST)

Bob Little didn’t feel much like cheering. He felt like puking as he stood, jelly-legged, one hand clutching the ladder of his Panther and the other pressed to his guts, fighting the wave of nausea that was pushing its way up his gullet. Before he’d been too busy to be scared or sick, now the adrenaline was wearing off and he felt, cold, sick and shivery.

He tried to take deep breaths, told himself he wasn’t going to be sick, trying desperately not to throw up or burst into tears. Suddenly, a grin cracked onto his face, and he let out a sheepish, embarrassed giggle. He was alive. They were alive. They’d won. So much for his jinx! He grabbed his helmet bag, pulled himself upright, and blew out a huge sigh.

“What I need now,” he announced to the world at large, “is a beer. A nice cold beer. Shit, even a warm beer!”

“Righto, mate!” a voice came from beside his ear. Box had crept up on him. “I’ll race you to the bar. Last one there buys the warm beer!”