Writing Forums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

The Omega Protocol - Part One [sci-fi; mature content] (1 Viewer)

CyberWar

Senior Member
Since it seems that readers here generally prefer shorter texts over 10k+ word text-walls, I have decided to split this new short into several smaller segments. Enjoy, and any feedback or criticism will be much appreciated!

Planet Alcaeus, former primary garden world

Magestrix Wasteland, formerly known as Magestrine Rainforest Sanctuary
Imperium of Sidhae

[FONT=&quot]Fall of Year 2244, 12th year of the Age of War

[/FONT]


---

If it weren't for the bullet-riddled metal sign half-buried in the rubble, one would never guess this place once used to be a wildlife reservation, much less a rainforest. But that was in the years before this new dark age.


Nowadays, one couldn't find a single plant here, much less a patch of trees that could be described as a rainforest by any stretch of imagination - and not just here, but pretty much anywhere else on this god-forsaken planet. Endless fields of dirt, mud, rubble and ash pockmarked with craters stretched from horizon to horizon, only charred lifeless stumps here and there reminding that there used to be plant life here once. The once-blue sky was now a nightmarish mass of roiling pitch-black clouds criscrossed by lightning bolts that only occasionally dispersed briefly when pierced by a brilliant particle lance from orbit, or pushed aside by the might of a detonating fusion bomb. Even then, the brief gaps in the cloud cover revealed blood-red sky shrouded in a perpetual gloomy haze and were soon again concealed from sight by the perpetual roiling black clouds of soot, ash and weaponized nanites. Where brief but intense thunderstorms had dispelled the day's humid heat every evening once, rain now fell only sporadically, and when it did, it was usually black with soot and so acidic that it rusted every unpainted metal surface it touched. At nights when the temperatures fell below zero even this close to the equator, sparse flakes of bitter, toxic snow would fall from the sky instead, more often than not intermixed with dry flakes of glassy ash that made Geiger counters chirp alarmingly wherever they fell. But especially often the sky rained metal and men. Sometimes they would come down intact, carried on wings of flame inside drop pods or within the bowels of dropships. More often than not, they fell amidst assorted junk - among shredded armor plates and mechanisms, exosuits or whole APCs and tanks. And sometimes they came down in whole ships, vessels the size of a city district or a medium-sized mountain falling out of the sky and obliterating everything within a hundred clicks of their touchdown. The chilling air was perpetually filled with the indescribable cocktail of odors ranging from burnt plastic, fuel and propellants to decaying bodies soaking in untreated sewage, acrid and choking, most of the times only faint but ever-present and penetrating everywhere and everything.


This was how the former Magestrine jungles, and everywhere else on Alcaeus looked today. Decades of unending war had reduced it to such. Brother had killed brother, old enemies joining the fray soon after to feast on the corpse of whoever was left in the end. The light of the once-great civilizations from before was quickly fading as all of the known galaxy burned, and darkness was encroaching fast. Almost everybody felt the end times had come, and the end was fast approaching.


Decurion Arcadius Drax didn't care much for the end, though. His generation of Sidh were built years after the start of the civil war and the so-called "peacekeeping intervention" by the Federation of Mankind and the Skargh Empire that had torn the once-mighty Imperium asunder. The Sidh built years after the start of the war were designed differently from the earlier generations, engineered from ground up for the conditions of total war. If the average Sidh from before had been extensively cultured and socialized in complex artificial reality simulations before activation, the new models that the surviving progenitories churned out in their millions these days were given only the bare-bone minimum necessary to function effectively in a military setting. Strong killer instincts, high aggression, a patent lack of empathy or moral concerns, decisiveness, perseverance, ruthless pragmatism and above all unwavering loyalty to the State and each other were the trademarks of the new generations - these Sidh were built for war, just like their original distant ancestors had been. The authorities that had commissioned their creation weren't worried about potential difficulties of them adapting to a peaceful life when the war would eventually end - they were not really expected to live long enough to need any peacetime social skills.


The irony of it wasn't lost on Drax. Granted, the original Sidh at least had a choice, being born ordinary men and women and only choosing to take the augmentations later in life. While they had been trained to be unyielding, fearless and relentless, and chosen for possessing an outstanding amount of these qualities, it was still their choice whether to remain mere mortals, or become the sword and shield of Humanity. Yet now that Humanity had decided to rid themselves of this sword and shield for good, the Sidh of latter days who had for a time settled down to a peaceful life of comfort and luxury were again called back to their roots and true nature - that of indomitable warriors.


---


The decurion walked through an underground tunnel, observing the half-buried sign rusting in a pile of rubble in the corner. Before the war it must have contained the name of the magrail station ahead. The tunnels were crowded with fellow Sidh, pairs of luminiscent eyes staring back at the decurion. Those of civilian refugees radiated only despair and various states of apathy. The soldiers' eyes were more expressive, betraying emotion ranging from the said apathy to barely-contained rage and hatred for the enemy that was ravaging their nation. But all had that inimitable bleak look that indicated a sense of impending doom. Drax walked past a refugee couple, a man and a woman. The man had clearly given up, staring blankly in the wall as he sat motionless, the woman pressing his head to her chest as she quietly sobbed. The man used to be someone important, Drax thought, if his once-expensive business suit, now ragged and filthy, was any indication. The woman, probably a lover of his, wore a ragged dark-red satin dress and a short fur coat, her augmetic legs decorated with lace patterns of inlaid gold. Drax merely scowled in disgust - these two, and all the other useless refugees sat here whimpering like whipped dogs, doing nothing but consuming the already-meager rations of better Sidh than them, when they should have asked to join the ranks in killing enemies of Sidhkind - or failing that, volunteered to do anything useful. It was not like there was a shortage of wounded who needed treatment and comfort as they laid dying, and even those with no medical skills could still help with cooking, doing laundry and cleaning latrines. A more tender-hearted man than him might have pitied these wretches, but it was not the Sidh way to pity or sympathize with those too weak and pathetic to defend themselves or at least do their part to help those who did. Not anymore, anyway. The decurion grumbled angrily to himself as more and more of these unworthy whimpering curs happened in his way - if he could have his way, the lot of them would be given the choice between fighting, working and the wasteland. Regrettably, the lochagos in charge of this makeshift shelter had more pressing problems than assigning a bunch of traumatized refugees to work detail.


The tunnel shook violently, lights flickering and trickles of dust falling from cracks in the ferrocrete ceiling. This used to be a utility tunnel for a magrail station on a line deep underneath what used to be tropical jungle above. The grating rumble spreading through the bedrock behind the tunnel walls suggested it was probably a fusion bomb or orbital strike. The muffled sounds of battle were coming in from above.


As Drax walked on, a couple young Sidh in light powered armor suits of an obsolete model happened in his way. Scurrying out of his path, the youth snapped crisp salutes, Drax returning the courtesy slightly lazier. The Alpha Legion emblem on his shoulder pauldron marked him as an elite warrior, whereas these kids looked to be from one of the local Auxilia outfits. Enthusiastic and reasonably brave, but regrettably too much so. With their minimal training, Drax gave them two or three before they would be killed - if they were lucky.


Leaving the utility line, the decurion entered the main station that had been turned into a command post. About 100 meters below ground, it was safe from most conventional attacks. There were some tents and prefabs on the platforms, housing command staff and their assorted equipment, built there mainly to protect sensitive electronics against dirt that was ever falling from the ceiling under heavier bombardment. The long-defunct mag-trains in the station now served as makeshift barracks. Fresh arrivals would sleep in cots outside on the platforms. Whenever someone from the train cars was killed, his place would be taken over by the longest-serving newcomer from the platforms. Against all odds, Drax had secured himself a place among the "train-sleepers" already two weeks ago - not quite enough for a record, but nearing it quickly at the present rate.


"You hear what those cunt-born fucks did the last week at Thespia?" Drax overheard some of the new guys conversing as he passed by. "Cunt-born" had been a racial slur best avoided in polite society before the war, but nowadays it was merely one among many by which the Sidhkind's human enemies were known, and one of the least offensive ones at that, as it merely stated a biological fact.


"No, what?" another asked, evidently expecting to hear the usual list of war rapes and mass murder that tended to come with every report of another city fallen to the enemy. Humans might have had their conventions and laws of war, but with having classified the Sidh as "non-human", the usual norms of treating enemy civilians and POWs no longer applied, even if the Fed media went out of their way to cover what was going on with flowery euphemisms like "collateral damage", "destruction of enemy manpower resources" and such.


"The bastards captured a progenitory. Smashed the progenitory tanks and unplugged every single Sidh inside!"


"The sick fucks...! The next time we go out, I'm definitely taking no more prisoners!"


"Yeah... I heard the fuckers took their time, watching and laughing as the poor bastards writhed on the floors, clawing out their own eyes and smashing their heads against the floor."


Drax wasn't a squeamish or emotional Sidh by any standards, but the word of this latest atrocity stirred some anger even in him. To unplug an entire batch of Sidh still in growth from the artificial reality that shaped their minds was, to a Sidh at least, an act of cruelty comparable to tearing out a child from its mother's womb, excepting that it was the child who would feel all the pain and horror, the victims most often going insane from the shock. The human wretches who had done this deserved to pay for this crime, and countless other crimes of the sort that their ilk had perpetrated upon the Sidh in the recent years. The betrayal of Humanity was especially hurtful in that they had sided with xeno scum who would destroy them at first opportunity over their Sidh kindred who had only wanted the best for them, whatever the differences between Mankind and the Sidh might have been. The mere thought of all the atrocities visited upon the Sidh by their human cousins filled Drax with a spine-shivering rage. Truly did the great Emperor make a mistake when he once proclaimed that he was willing to sacrifice half of Mankind to save the other half. None who failed to embrace his teachings were worthy of salvation, all indeed meriting only death.


The decurion let none of his emotions show, however, moving on with purpose. It wasn't like the human scum were going anywhere from this world anytime soon - there would still be plenty of opportunity for revenge.


Walking up the long-defunct escalator, Drax found himself in the assembly and triage area. Soldiers assigned to missions would gather here, and the wounded brought in from the outside would be triaged here as well.


"Is this how it ends? Is this really the end...?" a delirious girl whimpered in her cot, much of her body a battered mass of wounds and burns. The agelesness and physical might of the Sidh came at a cost - when death did come, it rarely if ever came quickly and painlessly, as their augmented bodies could survive injuries that would outright kill regular humans. That, however, didn't make the injuries any less painful, and only denied the stricken Sidh the final mercy of a quick death.


"Fear not, child," an aged medic tried to comfort her, "Death is but the end of duty. For you, the struggle, pain and grief will finally be over. For what is existence in this wretched world compared to the bliss of non-existence?"


"I want it to end... Make it stop..." the girl groaned, only to expire an instant later as the medic applied a modified cattle stunner to the back of her head, mercifully ending her life. Drax frowned but said nothing - at least the girl had gotten the luxury to die quickly and peacefully, in the company of her fellow Sidh, rather than lingered for days out in the no-man's land alone amongst corpses.


Other medics were in the meantime preoccupied with dispassionate sorting of the latest casualties. The lighter ones were patched up quickly and sent to the overcrowded infirmary areas. The more badly-injured ones were simply stripped of their armor and gear, and put out of their misery by a stun bolt to the back of the head. Few if any were upset about it though - it was at least the easy way out of here. Drax looked on at the blood-stained empty cots where men like him had lied just moments ago, only to be put out of their suffering, and felt no revulsion or fear - even a fate like this still much preferable to slowly expiring outside in the wastes, or falling into human or Skargh hands alive.


The decurion finally reached the exit tunnel. The number of Auxilia soldiers crowded there pushed aside and saluted, him returning a lazy salute. The battle outside seemed to be going at full swing, as the numberless tracers and energy bolts lighting up the pitch-black sky suggested.


"There you are, Dec!" his long-standing comrade Jassa greeted Drax as he emerged from the tunnel into what used to be a reception area for the local wildlife preserve, "We already started wondering if you're still with us!"


Claudia Jassa was one of Drax's "birth-kin", a Sidh from the same progenitory batch as him. "Half-sister" was probably the closest human equivalent, as the two came from the same batch and therefore had at least two common genetic ancestors, though traditional kinship ties would not easily translate to Sidh society where people were literally manufactured in state progenitories using industrial production techniques. The two had been grown in adjacent vats, and seemed to be drawn to each other after activation as well. Progenitors said it was probably because of residual memories from Dreamtime - the artificial reality used to develop and mature the minds of Sidh in production. It was not uncommon for friendships and romantic interests formed in Dreamtime to resurface in the real world despite the memory-wiping that every new Sidh underwent to aid his or her adaptation. Most of the time such friendships and affairs did not last for long anyway. After the few adaptation weeks during which the younglings were constantly tested and gauged, the young Sidh would be assigned to jobs best matching their aptitudes and interests and would go their own separate ways, rarely meeting ever again. Things were a bit different in Drax and Jassa's case, as their entire batch had been destined for the military from the moment of conception. Even though the progenitors had still dutifully maintained the fiction of younglings having a choice about their future careers, they had also made every effort to direct them towards the desired choice, and with the amount of patriotic indoctrination that the latest generations were exposed to in Dreamtime, few if any who were built to be warriors ever decided not to enlist.


They had started off as a whole century of "birth-kin", 120 young Sidh bred for war and eager to make a name for themselves. Having demonstrated some talent for leadership, Drax had been promoted to decurion about two-thirds into their second year of war - just when their numbers had dwindled to exactly an expanded decury of 12, himself included. Now that number had dropped to just four. The replacements for the rest were some conscripted Auxilia kids whose only qualification for serving in an elite legion was having survived a few battles more than the average conscript, mostly on dumb luck. Drax didn't care to learn their names, making do with "you-there" and various unflattering nicknames of convenience when he needed something from the new guys - in a week or two at most, they'd be dead anyway.


"Dec, the centurion wants you for briefing!" Jassa spoke, "Said he's got a special task for our decury!"


"Where is he?" Drax asked, stepping up to the breastworks to have a look at how the battle was progressing. The blasted hellscape ahead resembled the pockmarked surface of an airless moon, shrouded in a perpetual haze. Whenever a star shell or a distant explosion illuminated the landscape, any shadows cast were further distorted by this haze and made the scene look even more otherworldly and hellish. So far, the forward defensive line seemed to hold, defenders trading fire with human vanguard teams further into the no-man's land.
"In the FCP," Jassa pointed him to the old rainforest preserve's visitor center about 50 paces down the trench to the left, where the station's garrison maintained a forward command post, "Don't keep him waiting, there's word of a major op sometime soon, and he's already on the edge."


Drax nodded and turned to leave. "Get the others!" he added.


He found his centurion where Jassa had said the man would be, leaning over a desk full of maps and holographic consoles along with several other centurions. The old visitor center had been built sturdy, like a half-buried bunker, ostensibly to resist jungle growth and minimize disruption to the forest with its presence. Now it served as an actual bunker. About a dozen or so troops in light armor sat at workstations along the walls, listening in to radio traffic and relaying messages. A prominent holographic console next to the map desk sat on a large black box with many cables going to the workstations and the adjacent rooms. This device housed the local battle-net AI, which gathered and processed all information fed to it from the comm stations and provided the officers at the desk with a near-real time picture of the situation on the battlefield. So far, the number of red markers indicating hostiles on the display outnumbered the friendly blue ones considerably, not painting a pretty picture of the general situation.


"Decurion Drax, reporting for duty, sir!" Drax snapped a crisp salute when the centurion took notice of him. Centurion Aurelius Polycrates was a new face as well, having replaced the previous commander of Drax's original century after the latter found himself on the wrong end of a Skargh amp-staff on one of the moons of Crodoss VII.


"Good, you're here," Polycrates acknowledged, "Let's get to business then. You know where the Listening Post Scourge is, right?"
"Vaguely, sir," Drax affirmed, "My team has never operated in that exact area before."


"It is about five clicks Southeast from here, roughly two thirds of the way to the last known Fed positions," the centurion pointed the exact location on the holographic console, "Don't trouble yourself uploading that map to your tacticom, all that shelling and junk falling from orbit changes the geography here much too often to bother. There are two decuries of troops from the local Auxilia stationed there, to keep an eye on movements around that light cruiser on the Fed side that crashed there a couple weeks back. Last they reported, there was a significant build-up of troops and defenses there in the past few days, and that hulk could prove a formidable defensive position if properly fortified. But that was already 48 hours ago."

"If they haven't reported in for 48 hours, most likely they are long-dead already," Drax spoke.


"That is certainly possible, especially in light of the two decuries I sent already to check on them. None have returned or reported in so far," centurion Polycrates agreed, "But those were all useless Auxilia conscript kids that the brass keeps sending me. The no-man's land is crawling with Fed patrols, any one of them could have baited those dumb sons of bitches in an ambush. You and your boys and gals, on the other hand, seem to know what you're doing, considering how long the bunch of you have already lasted here. So I want you to go out there and recon if Listening Post Scourge is still viable. If it's been overrun, do not engage and turn back immediately. If by some miracle its still operational, tell the guys stationed there to pull back with you. There's a major counter-offensive scheduled in 5 hours, and once it starts, pretty much everything south of this trenchline will be pulverized."


"A counter-offensive?" Drax was surprised, "Last time I checked we were getting pushed back on every front and about to withdraw from these positions as well."


"Haven't you heard? There's an entire battlefleet en route to Alcaeus with reinforcements. They are bound to arrive in orbit in roughly around 5 hours, and make planetfall the next morning. Apparently the brass have decided to throw in all the reserves to take this world back."


"If you say so, sir," Drax was skeptical, "Anything else I should know about this listening post or the missing decuries?"


"The password is a sum of 15," Polycrates explained, returning to plotting on his map desk with the other centurions, "The listening post itself is impossible to miss, it's inside the hulk of a super-heavy mech. One of ours, Malleus-class, went by the name Scourge of Armagon before the Feds cored it with an orbital defense gun last year, or so I've heard."


"Explains the name," Drax noted, "If that is all, requesting permission to take my leave!"


"Dismissed," the centurion nodded. Drax snapped a salute and departed from the command post. Part of him was suspicious about this whole affair. Reinforcing this devastated rock that was at most a month away from falling made no sense, not when there were at least 50 other worlds in much better shape than Alcaeus that could have used those reinforcements much better. But Drax wasn't in the habit of questioning his orders or doubting his superiors. He was a Sidh and a warrior, after all.


Back near the entrance to the old magrail station, Jassa and the rest of Drax's decury had already assembled and awaited their orders.


"Alright, listen up, especially you new guys!" Drax announced, "FCP has lost contact with Listening Post Scourge and have been out of touch with them for 48 hours now. The centurion wants us to scout it out and see if it is still operational. Two other scouting parties sent for the same purpose have failed to report back as well. Should we locate the any of them or the troops stationed at Scourge, we are to have them withdraw back to the main defense line with us. Should no survivors be located, we are to retreat back to our current positions within five hours."


"LP Scourge, Dec? You mean the one inside that busted mechwalker southeast from here?" Cato, the decury's autogunner and one of the veterans, remarked, "It's almost five clicks from here. Getting there and back through all that dirt and muck while the place is crawling with Fed-rats in five hours is a pretty tall order!"


"Then I guess we better get to it," Drax responded, "This is a recon-only job - if they're there, good on them, if not, too bad. We can pull this off in time."


"What happens in five hours, Decurion?" rifleman Vitellus, one of the new guys, asked.


"All hell breaks loose in five hours," Drax explained, "Centurion said there's a whole battlefleet with reinforcements making its way here as we speak. The brass will be launching a full-scale counter-offensive timed with their arrival."


"Counter-offensive?" Vitellus sounded delighted, "About time we did something about those Fed-rat pests!"


"Why haven't we heard anything about any counter-offensive? Normally you'd expect preparing and everything for such a big thing," rifleman Cassius, another rookie, seemed sceptical.
"Of course we haven't heard about it, dumbass!" Vitellus scolded him, "Otherwise, if every grunt knew about it, so would the enemy!"


"Cut the chatter, you two!" Drax growled, "If we're not back when this thing starts, we'll have to sit it out in the no-man's land, and I don't know about you lot, but I'd much rather be deep underground when the big guns start shooting. Now get going, we move out in 10!"


---


"So, I've been thinking..." Jassa spoke as she stood next to Drax by the ammo crates, loading up for the mission, "When this war is eventually over, we should go on a pilgrimage to Aedun. Together. All of us."


"Oh yeah? And why is that?" Drax responded less than enthusiastically, pushing another 20-millimeter cartridge in a magazine with a loud click. The standard-issue Mk.998 Falx blast rifle that most Sidh infantry wielded was no subtle weapon, spewing high-explosive shells instead of solid bullets at the enemy, a single well-placed burst able to shred an entire squad of enemies. Though no longer seen as grossly overkill and in violation of every existing convention like its predecessors had been when they were first introduced by the ancestors of the Sidh on Terra two centuries back, Sidh blaster weapons like the Mk.998 were still feared and reviled by the humans who were distraught by their gruesome and messy kills. The Skargh, on the other hand, had found such weapons right at home with their tastes for bloodshed and brutality, creating and adopting variants of their own.


"We should pay our respects to the Emperor, may He rest in glory. I read they placed His body in stasis on a throne overlooking a great hall, where the names of all those fallen in service of the Imperium will be inscribed, and the very worthiest will be granted a tomb of their own at his feet," Jassa spoke while loading her own magazines.


"There won't be enough room for the name of every fallen Sidh on the whole fucking surface of Aedun by the time this war is over," Drax grumbled, "And that's assuming there even are any Sidh left by the time it is."


"Why do you have to be so damn negative, Arcadius?" Jassa scolded him, "It's bad enough that the refugees have lost all hope, and now you..."


"I'm not being negative," Drax shrugged, continuing with his magazine, "Just realistic. Look around yourself, Claudia! Are you somehow getting the vibe that we are winning this war?"


"No. But it ain't over yet, and it won't be over as long as a single Sidh still draws breath. You said that yourself on your first mission as decurion, remember?"


"That is correct. But I also do not delude myself with baseless hopes of being one of those Sidh who will see the war end, and neither should you," Drax spoke indifferently, "So I make no plans for the future or even for tomorrow, and live for however long I am meant to last one moment at a time. If by some miracle I last until the end of the war, I will entertain the idea of doing what you suggest, but until that happens, there's only now, the next hour, and the one after that."


"Perhaps you are right," Jassa spoke, "But hope for something better is what keeps people going, you too, even if you won't admit it."


"No, it is duty that keeps me going," Drax said, tucking the filled magazine in a pouch on his tactical rig and taking out an empty one, his armored fingers again starting to put round after round in it with practiced speed, "This war is what I was built for, what we were all built for. It is the reason and purpose of my existence, so I do not need the promise or hope for something better or different in the future to keep going."


Jassa sighed. "I've thought about it too," she said, banging the newly-filled magazine against her armored shoulder to knock all the rounds in place evenly, "To be honest, the idea of this war ending someday excites and scares me in equal measure. What use will Sidh like us have then?"


"How would I know..." Drax grumbled, "That's why I don't bother myself with thoughts about what may come after, if that "after" ever comes in the first place, and suggest you don't as well."


"I definitely know what I'm gonna do after the war," autogunner Cato spoke from his end of the decury's supply stash, layering a long belt of blaster rounds in his large ammo backpack, "I'm gonna drink every liquor and do every illegal drug known to science, and fuck everything with a pulse 'til the end of my days!"


His comment prompted laughter from the rookies, even his veteran comrades unable to help but grin.


"Not the worst plan I've heard," Drax chuckled, "Certainly beats nonsense like becoming a politician!"


"Hey!" marksman Victus, the last of Drax's remaining birth-kin, protested, "I know that corrupt and greedy politicians are the reason this stupid war even started, but the Imperium will need new leaders after the war, and I plan to be one of them. Someone will have to rule all those newly-conquered planets after we win, right?"


"You can't rule even over your own gambling habits, Victus!" Drax chuckled in a rare display of amusement, aware that the marksman was probably only half-hearted about the victory he spoke of. These days, one had to be careful about voicing sentiments that could potentially be interpreted as "defeatist" - MilSec and especially the recently-founded Domestic Security were constantly on the lookout, and one could easily find himself reassigned to suicide bombing or mine trampling duties in a penal unit for making demoralizing statements. Even though Domestic Security technically did not have jurisdiction over the military, the fallout of the recently-ended civil war was still hot, and the Empress was said to have granted them special dispensation to look for any remaining traitor sympathizers in the Army and Navy as well.


"That occasion on New Antioch doesn't count!" Victus protested, "I was drunk, didn't realize what was at stake, and I did get my rifle back before the centurion found out!"
"Say, you guys ever heard of these new energy-based rifles they've come up with lately?" the team's AT operator Grexus spoke out while running diagnostics on the anti-armor missiles they were about to bring along with his assistant Duilius - although the missiles were sealed in disposable containers for easy transportation and loading, sometimes the seal wasn't perfect, leading to corrosion, leakage and all sorts of problems unless detected in a pre-mission diag.


"Energy rifles?" Jassa evidently hadn't heard, "You mean like lasers?"


"No, not lasers," Grexus spoke, "Particle beams. I read they can burn through any powered armor from two clicks away with ease, and that they feed from the armor's power pack, needing no ammunition whatsoever."


"Now that would be a neat piece to have around," Cato who had to lug around the most ammunition as autogunner remarked.

"Probably just another propo the Public Information Department released to keep the morale up," Vitellus was sceptical.


"Don't think so, this one seems legit. I read that the brass has already started issuing them to the Imperial Guard," Grexus continued, "Doesn't that suck that the Blackshields get all the good stuff before anyone else?"


"What the hell did you expect?" Drax chuckled, "The late Emperor already had nearly half of his army turn on him once. His daughter is evidently smart enough to only hand out the new stuff to those undisputably loyal to her and see where it goes from there. Something the two of you should understand better than most!"


Grexus and Duilius said nothing, looking down in shame. The two had fought against the Imperial government during the civil war until Murasaki's Martyrdom, when a certain Lady Murasaki from one of the Traitor Clans accidentally discovered evidence of the Traitor leaders conspiring to overthrow the Emperor, assassinate his heir, the current Empress, and install a puppet emperor of their own with the backing of the Federation of Mankind and the Skargh. Having sincerely believed in the official Traitor line that the Empress had assassinated her own father and was trying to pin the blame on her most powerful competitors for the throne, Lady Murasaki had understandably been enraged by this discovery and made it public. For that she was martyred, but her sacrifice had not been in vain, ending the Sidh civil war almost overnight as the bulk of Traitor armies laid down their arms or even turned on their former masters. Faced with the greater threat of an ongoing human-Skargh invasion, the Empress recognized this wasn't the time for vindictiveness, and had extended a general pardon to most rebels. The fallout of the civil war was consequently limited largely to a few hundred thousand executions of ringleaders and perpetrators of war crimes and atrocities. The rest were allowed to rejoin society, but were understandably still looked upon with suspicion and kept a close eye on by the authorities for any signs of disloyalty. Many former rebels had consequently taken to various overt displays of repentance. Grexus and Duilius, for example, had the Teardrop of Shame - a black teardrop tattoo - done on their faces, and a similar one painted on their armor as well.


"Fortunately, this war is also an opportunity for men like yourselves to atone for past mistakes and demonstrate yourselves worthy to be called Sidh," Drax softened his earlier statement after noticing their embarassment.


The decurion frankly had great reservations about having two former Traitors on his decury. Because of men like them, his first kill hadn't been a real enemy of the Imperium, but a fellow Sidh, an ordinary soul led astray by the lies of power-hungry betrayers. Drax had realized early on in his life that the real cause of all evil wasn't greedy and selfish politicians who would ruin their own country over a petty succession dispute, but the common rabble, the mass of ignorant, weak-willed fools who would allow themselves to be charmed by the shallow lies of such politicians. So as far as he was concerned, the two former rebels in his decury were just as guilty of the civil war and the Imperium's present condition as Vado Eskyap, Lysandros Vrak and other arch-traitors. As a dutiful soldier, Drax did not allow his disdain for the two get in the way of professionalism, however - if those above his paygrade had decided that their sort were worthy to serve in a reputable loyalist unit like the elite Alpha Legion, then it was not his place to question or doubt.


With everyone soon reporting in ready, Drax lined his troops up for a quick last-minute inspection, and ordered to move out.
 
Top