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


Senior Member
The third chapter of what was started off as a short story and has since grown into a short novella.

"I take that you are the recon team stationed here?" Drax asked, pushing his way through the narrow passage that was probably some maintenance shaft not originally meant to accomodate someone in infantry powered armor.

"That is correct," the man or woman behind him, Drax couldn't quite make out which over the increased static, affirmed. "Your decury is the third they've sent after us so far, which is frankly impressive, given what the brass has in mind."

"The other two decuries are here?" Drax was slightly surprised, "Why haven't any of you reported back?"

"What's left of them are," the Sidh behind explained, "And after you hear why, I believe you too won't be very keen about reporting back either."

This immediately raised a red flag with Drax. Desertion was a frequent occurrence in the current dire situation that the Sidh military found itself in on Alcaeus. Perhaps the recon team had decided they had had enough of the war and convinced the surviving rescue parties to join them as well. If so, he'd have to be extra careful about his mission to bring them back - the earlier statement about the remainders of the rescue parties seemed especially suspicious, suggesting that their missing members might not have necessarily fallen by human hand after all.

"Is it all the metal around that's messing with my radio?" Drax spoke aloud to shift away from potentially-suspicious inquiries, "I can barely hear a thing even while you're right behind me."

"Yes, the armor, and the radiation too," the Sidh behind explained, "After this mech bit the dirt, most of its remaining reactor coolant has pooled down here. Don't worry, the rad level's not lethal, not unless you drink or take a skinny-dip in the stuff."

"I don't see any," Drax stated, looking down at his feet to find no apparent fluids of any kind there.

"That's because it's inside the myo-cords around," the Sidh behind explained, banging on the right wall with a soft, non-metallic thud. Drax looked to his right and realized that much of the surrounding surfaces save for the armor plating to the left were in fact massive tubular structures of synthetic weave. These, he knew, housed the massive myomer bundles that acted as the mechwalker's muscle, actuating its giant limbs. Coolant pipes ran throughout these as well, leading to the heat exchangers on the walker's back. Normally the reactor and myomer cooling circuits were not connected, but with the machine having a giant hole blown in its torso now, radioactive coolant had evidently mixed into the other system.

"Get ready to go right," Grexus who was half-crawling ahead of Drax passed on instructions from the front of the group, "It's a bit tight there, but we should get through alright."

The maintenance shaft soon did indeed turn right, the path there being partly obstructed by what appeared to be a huge man-sized bolt attaching armor plate to the walker's internal structure. One had to go either over or under it to get past, Grexus stopping here as the rocket packs mounted on his back got in the way. Drax helped him remove them and handed them back on once the missile trooper had gotten past the obstacle. From there, it was another two dozen or so steps at half-crawl, until another hatch led the group inside a larger, more spacious room.

"Welcome to the reactor core," the Sidh behind Drax introduced, "Or rather what's left of it."

The first thing that Drax immediately noticed was the massive well-like hole passing all the way through the room, the floor - or rather the wall - plates having buckled upwards and appearing to have been partly melted once. The fact that he and others were currently standing on what were technically supposed to be walls rather than the floor did seem confusing at first. The decurion stepped near the jagged edge of bent plating, jerking it to see if it would hold his weight, before looking up and down into the hole. Above it was pretty much the same, the far end of what was once a reactor room ending in a circular opening with the roiling, lightning-crossed sky beyond the exit hole. Down was nothing more than a circular pool of dirty, murky water with assorted junk fallen from above sticking out of it. As Drax looked down at the said pool, the Geiger counter in his HUD spiked alarmingly with the accompanying warning chirp. Probably equal parts rainwater and coolant, the decurion thought.

"It's what I said before," the Sidh behind affirmed, "Not very dangerous from up here, but best don't go take a dip down there or you'll be glowing in the dark next day. Besides, we've been pissing and shitting there for some time."

"Explains the smell," Drax spoke, disengaging his helmet that partly retracted back into his armor suit and immediately wincing in disgust.

"Well, it's either that, or crapping where we eat and sleep," his escort stated, turning out to be a woman somewhat older than Jassa after likewise disengaging her helmet now that it was relatively safe, "This walker was never meant to carry passengers, let alone have thirty-three guys live inside it."

"Who's in charge here?" Drax spoke, noticing the woman's decurion insignia.

"Centurion Aelius Crassus," she responded, "And I am Decurion Jocasta Boreale, 61st Infantry. I trust you folks are all from the 6th Assault?"

"Aye," Drax nodded, "Where can I see this centurion Crassus?"

"He should be upstairs in the command post," Boreale pointed upwards and chuckled, "Or should I say - in the next room, depending on your take on direction in here."

The place was indeed crowded, Drax soon figured, after passing on through a hatch that led to an adjacent room, formerly the top deck of the reactor room. Fellow Sidh were sitting tightly packed along the walls, some sleeping in their armor suits, others eating MREs and conversing quietly. Though their luminiscent eyes all looked up at the newcomers, none bothered to stand up and salute Drax. Evidently, idling inside here had taken a toll on morale and discipline, the decurion thought. The centurion better have a good excuse for the sloppiness of his outfit.

Makeshift stairs assembled from wreckage crudely welded together led upwards into what was once a horizontal door. Drax made his way up to find himself inside a makeshift command post. What were once walls mounting instrumentation panels were now floors lined with loose metal plates, while the former floors and ceilings were now walls next to which were stacked ammo crates,weapon racks and communication equipment, complete with a portable holographic console in the center of the room. A man with a centurion's insignia could be seen conversing with two optii. Emblems on their armor also identified them as fellow Alpha Legionaries. The decurion approached and snapped a crisp salute.

"Decurion Arcadius Drax, 6th Assault, reporting with orders from HQ!"

The centurion seemed to bide his time before answering, the optii next to him likewise staring at Drax like an idiot, or at least it seemed that way to him.

"Centurion Aelius Crassus, 61st Infantry," he finally returned a lazy salute, "So, the shitbirds at the HQ have decided to grace us with another bunch of kids sent to look for our sorry asses? I'm almost flattered by their concern..."

"The HQ's orders are for your reconnaissence team to return immediately and join the upcoming offensive. Which is in less than two hours, so I respectfully suggest you and your men make best haste to leave this place." Drax spoke, frowning in disapproval of the centurion's careless tone, "I trust there is a good reason why the previous rescue parties failed to report back?"

The centurion said nothing, staring at Drax far too long for the young decurion's comfort, before suddenly bursting out in laughter along with his two optii.

"They didn't tell you, did they?" Crassus laughed almost hysterically, "Of course they didn't, why should they... You are expendable grunts, after all. We all are."

"Tell me what, centurion?" Drax asked sternly, his patience starting to wear thin. He had seen officers lose it before like this guy apparently had, and whenever the officers lost it, enlisted men got killed needlessly.

"The offensive... Oh, the joke of it..." the centurion explained, struggling to compose himself, "I don't know how to tell you this, lad... This whole offensive is just a ruse!"

"Ruse for what?"

"Ruse for all of us getting fucked over and sacrificed, that's what! They're going to glass this whole fucking planet with us still on it! This so-called "offensive" is just a bait, to distract the Feds and draw in their reserves while the fleet pulls off the most valuable assets - which none of us clearly are, as your presence here attests. Now I don't know about you, son, but I clearly don't plan to be around when that happens."

"Bullshit!" Drax barked without any formal deference for rank left in him, "They're not going to just blow up one of their own planets with twenty legions still stationed on it!"

"Oh, believe me, they are, son!" the centurion spoke with the tone of a doomsday preacher calling upon people to repent before the end, "It's exactly that bad, and worse - they're going to do it to other planets as well, as many as it takes to finally beat the Feds and the Scalies by attrition! If our Imperium cannot have these planets, then nobody will - end of story, kaboom!"

"You know what, centurion Crassus?" Drax growled, his left cheek twitching in anger, "I've heard about enough of your treasonous defeatist bullshit! I hereby relieve you of command and place you under arrest, where you will remain until you can be turned over to MilSec for proper court-martial and judgement!"

And he drew his handblaster and pointed it at the centurion's head. His two optii were not so supportive of the attempted coup, however, and Drax found himself staring down the muzzles of their own handblasters in the next instant.

"Don't do something you're gonna regret, son!" one of the optii warned.

Drax was unfazed. In a lightning-quick motion, he reached for a pouch on his tactical rig, plucking a frag grenade from it and removing the safety pin with a flick of a thumb.
"Shoot me, and that will be the last thing you deserters will do!" he growled, demonstrating the grenade clenched in his hand.

"Um, gentlemen," decurion Boreale intervened from behind, having arrived after the others downstairs alerted her of the ongoing argument, "Let's not be hasty! I know that is a lot to take in, but if you could please calm down and hear the centurion out, decurion Drax..."

"I've heard enough of this traitor's lies!" Drax spat back, "Even assuming all of what he said is true, if he refuses to comply with a direct order from the HQ, hides away like a rat with his men and seduces other soldiers to follow his example, that still makes him a deserter and a traitor, and there's only one punishment for that sort of scum in wartime!"

"Look, decurion," centurion Crassus responded in a more sensible voice after composing himself, "I understand how you must be feeling now, believe me, I was as shocked and inclined to disbelieve as you when I first heard it, but let me prove I'm speaking the truth! After that, you and your men can decide whether to go back and report me, or go with me and what I have in mind."

"Fine!" Drax grumbled, reluctantly lowering his handblaster but retaining the grenade, "But any funny business, and I'm dropping this frag right under your feet!"

"Alright, " the centurion spoke, his optii lowering their guns as well, "A week ago when we first arrived here, we were just like you, loyal to the bone and determined to carry out our mission, come what may. That changed three days ago when a dropship, one of ours, came down just a few hundred paces from here. Wouldn't be anything unusual in itself, were it not for what we found inside it."

He tapped some keys on the holographic console. The display started to show what appeared to be bodycam footage from one of the recon team's soldiers.

"Is that... Is that a strategos?" Jassa spoke out from behind, having come to see what the commotion was about. The footage showed a dying old man amongst the bodies and wreckage of the dropship, clearly a very high-ranking officer judging by the elaborate insignia on his armor, extracting and handing over a memory chip from his tacticom to the recording soldier.

"Get off this rock, soldier..." he could be heard uttering with his dying breath, "Get off while you still can... You deserve better than this... Use my tag number..."

"It was me who spoke to him," Boreale interjected.

"After decurion Boreale brought the chip back here, we didn't know what to make of it at first. The data on it was heavily encrypted," the centurion explained, "Until it occurred to us that his tag number might be the decryption key. Turned out the late strategos Isaias Theron had some quite interesting, quite disturbing, and needless to say, highly-classified information on him."

Crassus tapped some more keys, and the image switched to a series of written documents, charts and tactical shematics and overlays.

"Now, I won't bore you with the details, you can read them yourself to be fully convinced, but the long story short is that the very top brass on Aedun have determined that attempting to hold back the frontlines at their present locations is pointless, as is proven by those charts. So they have decided to rectify this untenable situation by redefining the very concept of attrition, bringing it up to a whole new level by sacrificing part of the Army as a bait," the centurion spoke, "It appears they've designated over two dozen worlds, valuable ones with heavy enemy presence, for destruction. The Navy jumps in and grabs what valuable assets they can from the world, while the ground forces still there go on an all-out offensive to keep the Feds or the Skargh occupied and draw in their reserves. It can't be a token force of volunteers, they'd be quickly overrun, so it must be a sufficiently large force that can hit back as well as take punishment. Nor can it be some worthless rock, it must be a valuable planet, or the enemy wouldn't commit its forces to holding it at all costs. Once the Navy are done with the evacuations, they will drop every piece of ordnance they have on the target world, vaporize everyone, our guys and the enemy. This way, our foes lose huge numbers of troops and equipment with nothing to show for it. The ultimate in attrition tactics - Omega Protocol, they call it."

"Pretty ingenious, in a sick fucked-up way, if you ask me," Boreale added, "This same document estimates up to 60 million enemy casualties for Alcaeus alone. Numerous as they may be, the Feds and even the Skargh cannot sustain taking such losses for long - they will have to stop their advance into our space sooner or later."

Drax listened and watched in silence, reading over the words of the secret document himself. The names and signatures of the Imperium's military and political heavyweights including the personal sigil of the Empress and the stamps classifying this document as Omega Black - top secret - affirmed the seriousness behind this plan, insane as it sounded.

"Alright," he finally spoke, sticking the pin back in the grenade but not yet entirely convinced, "I can think of a couple worlds who can be written off like that. But does it say anything about Alcaeus in particular?"

"This here chart is for Alcaeus," Crassus continued, switching to a planetary map showing Alcaeus. Numerous locations were marked in various colours, forming a recognizable patterns. "I don't know much about WMDs, but looks to me that these red dots here are pre-determined target locations for strategic-yield orbital strikes, placed along major geological fault lines. These lesser yellow and blue dots in a more or less even pattern around the world are apparently the target zones for lesser strikes. Looks like the brass is planning to trigger every fault line and volcano on the planet while blanketing it with thermonuclear fire."

"Can they even do that?" Drax seemed skeptical, "Fusion bombs and kinetic strikes is one thing, but even a particle lance would have a hard time triggering an entire fault line."
"Well, apparently they've figured it can be done," Crassus shrugged, "I don't pretend to understand everything in those files, only that they've planned this for quite some time already, and it's about to happen here."

"I read some time ago in Navy News that New Antioch Shipyards is putting a new model of dreadnought-class particle lances in production this year, an order of magnitude more powerful than anything before," Jassa mentioned, "The Navy officials had even assigned a nickname, World-breakers, for them.Maybe they'll be using them here for the first time."
"Probably just another propo to boost morale," one of the optii dismissed the thought, "But new model or not, I think we can all agree that none of us want to be anywhere near a particle lance strike when it comes."

"No," Drax agreed, "But there ain't much we can do about it, is there? Simply knowing that we're about to get bent over and fucked in the ass by our own Navy isn't exactly the same thing as having a way out of it."

"As a matter of fact, there is," decurion Boreale spoke, "Fortunately for us, it's not all bad news. For one, according to this map, we are over 200 clicks from the nearest major target, which in the very least means we will not be instantly incinerated when the orbital strikes commence. More importantly, however, we might just have found a way out."

"I trust you noticed that wrecked Fed cruiser outside on your way here?" Crassus explained, pointing in the direction where the wreck lied, "Not the big one lying in the distance that we were sent to observe from here, but the heap of junk just outside this mech, the one that nearly crashed on top of us. It came down almost the same time as that shuttle carrying the strategos. After things settled down a bit, I sent my guys to scout it out. Turned out there were a bit too many survivors for us to take on at the time, but the lads did find out that they have a reasonably intact Cheyenne dropship in one of the docking bays."

"How do we know that thing's even airworthy?" Drax questioned, still ever the skeptic, "For all we know, it could be trashed beyond repair during the crash."

"Because we've seen the humans fly it twice over the past two days, probably evacuating their wounded and returning with supplies from their main lines," Crassus explained, "A big heap of junk like a downed starship is too good a forward position to just give up."

"Alright," Drax agreed, "And how exactly do you plan on stealing that dropship, centurion? We saw at least a platoon's worth of Feds on our way here, and there's probably at least twice that number dug in inside there."

"Yeah, my guys found that out the hard way the other day..." Crassus frowned, "Fortunately for us, that's where the upcoming offensive comes in. The humans don't know we're in here and aren't expecting any more of us. While they are busy fighting whatever is thrown at them from our main line, we can sneak in from behind and nab their ship. With your decury and the other two who joined us over the past two days, our numbers have more than doubled, so there's a good chance we could pull this off. We'll have to be quick about it, though - no telling if the cunt-born bastards won't try to fly their ship out to safety at the first sign of trouble."

"Alright, let's assume we get in and grab that Cheyenne," Drax questioned on, "But that still leaves us with the problem of flying that thing out to safety. I know for a fact that Cheyenne-class dropships are only rated for low orbit and sub-orbital flight. Our fleet in a bombardment formation will be at least 600 clicks above, meaning we can't reach it with that ship. Never mind the fact that we'll be mistaken for enemy and shot down by the first air defense system that picks us up."

"You're forgetting we're a reconaissance outfit, decurion," Boreale answered, "Remember the shuttle that strategos Theron was riding? I and my guys salvaged its IFF transponder just for that purpose. As long as we stay out of visual range of any AA batteries, which shouldn't be too difficult in these conditions, we ought to be good."

"There's a designated evacuation site 300 clicks northwest from here," Crassus added, "Chances are they'll be expecting strategos Theron and his retinue there, even if he's two days overdue. Once we get there, finding a ship to take us off-world shouldn't be difficult."

"Yeah - assuming they don't just line up and shoot us as deserters once they figure out the strategos isn't there to confirm our identity as his retainers!" Drax smirked, "Or in the best case relegate us to stay behind and cover the evac site."

"That's a possibility," Crassus agreed, "But better take that chance than sit here with thumbs up our asses waiting to be atomized along with everyone else not on the VIP list! So, decurion, are you and your men in on this or not?"

"I will have to speak with my men," Drax frowned. Although the centurion's plan seemed sensible, especially in light of the new knowledge, it still sounded way too close to outright desertion for the Drax's comfort.

"I'm certainly in, Dec!" Jassa immediately volunteered, "Dead soldiers are of no use to the Empress, and I feel we still have a fair few uses left in us!"

Drax climbed down to the lower level where the rest of his soldiers were crowding for a lack of space upstairs, listening in to the argument going on above.

"I trust you've heard enough so I'll spare you the details," Drax addressed them, "What the centurion is proposing can easily be interpreted as desertion, so I cannot order you to follow him. Your choice is therefore simple - stay on Alcaeus and die fighting like we were all meant to from the beginning, or join centurion Crassus and his men in an attempt to reach the evacuation zone. Keep in mind that the chances of success are low as it is, and even if you succeed, there's a good chance you will be court-martialed and shot as deserters."

The soldiers were visibly distraught by the perspectives. After a long period of silence, Cato was the first to speak up.

"You have a real way of raising the spirits, Dec!" the burly autogunner grinned sarcastically, "But given the circumstances, I'll take my chances. Count me in!"

"No shit...! " young Cassius whined, "No frigging way am I sticking around to be blown up by our own Navy! I'm totally in!"

"I don't like that court-martial part one bit, Dec," marksman Victus noted, "But men like us are destined to be shot, blown up, burned alive or whatnot one way or another anyway, might as well be our own comrades who do the shooting. Besides, it would be kinda boring to die all on my own out here. I'm with you!"

Grexus and Duilius exchanged looks and sighed. "What the hell..." the former finally grumbled, "Going can't be much worse than staying, can it?"

"I'll take that as a yes," Drax noted and climbed back up to the command room, "My men are in, centurion!"

"Good!" a light smile crept on centurion Crassus' scarred face, "I knew you would come to see sense, decurion. Believe me, the other two decurions reacted much the same way you did when I first suggested what you just heard. Enough good men will be dying on Alcaeus as it is, no need for any of us to further increase their number."

"I agree," Drax frowned, "But I have a condition - if we do get that ship, we pick up the rest of our unit as well! "

"Decurion, you do understand that that ship has a limited capacity," Crassus argued, "Besides, we already talked about the necessity to avoid flying within visual range of our air defenses. There's also a chance that some overzealous officer, quite possibly your own CO, who hears our transmission might interpret your attempt as "defeatist panic-mongering", with according consequences. I sympathize with you, but I cannot allow that!"

Drax quietly cursed every deity among the stars. The very thought of leaving behind what remained of his unit was loathsome to him, every cell in his body screaming that this was nothing but desertion. But then again, as Jassa had aptly put it - dead soldiers were of no use to the Empress, and that was exactly what he and his decury were going to be at the end of the day if they stayed. Drax did not care much for himself, the instinct of self-preservation having been largely suppressed in his generation of Sidh beyond the desire to remain functional so that they could kill as many enemies as possible before their eventual demise. Or was it? Right now, he couldn't tell if it really was the case, as his mind seemed almost desperate to rationalize and excuse what he was about to embark on. In the end, it did indeed find the excuse it was looking for. Drax and his remaining birth-kin might have been built to consider themselves expendable, but the same wasn't true for the three remaining rookies in his decury, who were just conscripts - former civilians who might have had other plans for life, were it not for the war getting in the way. The decurion decided there and then that he would join centurion Crassus for them, taking responsibility for the deed alone should they have to face court-martial afterwards. With any luck, he alone would be shot while Jassa and the lads would be sent to a penal unit - perhaps not much of an improvement, but at least one with the faintest chance of survival as opposed to staying here on Alcaeus. As for the centurion and what little remained of Drax's old century, they were all conscripts rather than born and bred elite legionaries, destined to be expendable cannon fodder from the start. Drax excused his ailing conscience that it was beyond his power to save them, but he could at least try and save those under his direct command.

"My men need some R&R," he curtly spoke aloud, "If my presence is no longer required, centurion, I would join them!"

"Our stocks of ammunition are low, but you are welcome to whatever we have left," Crassus said, "Speak to optius Thersandros, our quartermaster, downstairs. I'll tell him to give you whatever can be spared."


The next hour passed uneventfully, although the tension in awaiting the coming offensive was palpable. In less than an hour, the Fed positions in this entire sector would be subjected to a hurricane of artillery fire likely to include tactical nuclear weapons. The Feds would no doubt return fire, and some of it would without doubt fall into the desolated no-man's land where isolated groups from both sides were hiding. There was a good chance that the wrecked mechwalker and its adjacent cruiser hulk would be targeted as well, being likely hideouts. The men tried not to think about it, although the mood was evidently rather bleak.

Drax had found himself a spot at the nominal upper levels, near the massive exit hole on the mechwalker's back, where it was less crowded. After detaching his armored backpack, the decurion took a quick inventory of the contents. A weapon and armor maintenance kit, a pack of MRE and eight spare clips for his blast rifle about summed up his meager possessions. Should the orbital bombardment be called off by some odd chance today, someone back in the abandoned magrail station would probably get lucky today, whole eight new cots freeing up inside one of the derelict trains. After putting everything else back, Drax tore open the MRE. It contained a bottle of slightly-saline water enriched with mineral salts and electrolytes, a tube of bland synthetic nutrient paste with an artificial raspberry flavour, and a packet of soylent wafers that tasted like salted cardboard with an unpleasant greasy aftertaste. The latter were said to be produced from recycled battlefield casualties and excrement among other unsavoury things, which was probably not too far off the truth, given how the whitish gooey nutrient paste that looked disturbingly similar to semen was meant to go with the wafers to improve their flavour. Infamously-unpalatable as they were, Imperial Army MREs got their job done, providing the necessary ultra-high calory nutrition necessary for the augmented Sidh bodies. They were perhaps an unavoidable consequence of the universal augmentation of the Sidh race, whose cyborg bodies required more nourishment than any natural comestibles in practical amounts could provide.

"Mind if I join in?" Jassa spoke, half-crawling in the tight space between the outer armor plating and what had been the reactor room shielding. Drax tapped to a place next to him in affirmation.

"What does yours taste like?" the decurion asked without particularly caring about the answer.

"Mine's a Number Five. Peanut butter," Jassa answered, squeezing some of the nutrient paste that looked like anything but peanut butter on the soylent wafer and taking a bite, "I wonder if real peanuts taste anything like it. They didn't grow any on our homeworld."

"Aye, it's probably too cold to grow peanuts anywhere back home," Drax spoke, recalling what little the two had seen of their homeworld Fenrir Prime before shipping out to war. The planet had resembled ice age Terra, with extensive ice caps and much of the remaining land surface covered in tundra, polar deserts, vast taigas and arctic grasslands. Great beasts including many Pleistocene Terran creatures genetically-engineered back into existence had roamed these lands to the peril of careless travellers. It was the Sidh way to introduce large and dangerous predators wherever they settled a new world if none were already present - the thrill of danger and uncertainty about one's place in the food chain was meant to keep one sharp outside the safety of settlement walls. The majority of the Alpha Legion had hailed from Fenrir Prime before the planet was lost to the ravages of war.
"I wonder if it still exists... You know, home..." Jassa spoke, "Or if it has been reduced to something like this place."

"It's still warmer here than home, that's for sure," Drax chuckled in a rare display of amusement, "I never really grew fond enough of the place to truly consider it home, though. We only spent what, our first months and the boot there?"

"Not even of Buran?" Jassa asked with a smile.

"Well, he was the one exception," Drax admitted. His and Jassa's decury had come across an abandoned wargvilk pup during an exercise in boot camp, taming and raising it to be the mascot of their century. Named after the furious sub-arctic blizzard-wind, the pup had grown into a mighty wargvilk, also known as direwolf in common parlance, recognizing Drax as his caretaker and master. Regrettably, Buran had met an early demise under the wheels of an automated cargo truck. Drax recalled having shed a single tear, one of only a handful in his life, over the remains of his lupine companion.

"Buran would have made an excellent attack... uh...wolf, but the brass probably wouldn't have allowed us to bring him along when we shipped out anyway," he stated, a hint of sadness creeping on his face, "And without me to take care for and train him, they'd most likely have to put him down, so I guess it's for the better that he went the way he did."

"Sometimes I imagine him prowling the battlefield alongside us," Jassa stated, preparing herself another soylent wafer, "What a fine sight would that be - a mighty wargvilk, tearing cunt-born scum to shreds!"

"You know, Number Five is better with a Number Seven," Drax said in an apparent effort to change the subject, "Tastes almost like peanut butter with raspberry jelly, and I just happen to have a Number Seven."

With that, he squeezed some of his nutrient paste on Jassa's soylent.

"Mmmm..." she grunted in delight, "It does taste like peanut butter and raspberry jelly! Well, almost! Here, have some of mine!"

For a brief while, the two continued to enjoy their meals in silence, occasionally pausing to squeeze their respective nutrient pastes on top of the other's.

"Do you ever wonder what they make this gunk out of?" Drax asked after finishing his last wafer and squeezing the last remains of nutri-paste in his mouth.

"Probably a mix of synthetic sugars, amino-acids, proteins and fats, and an artificial flavoring," Jassa shrugged, "It gets branded with a number by the Army logistics department so that different flavours can be told apart, but I doubt those pastes even have a proper name, probably just an inventory code of assorted numbers and letters."

"No, I mean where do all those sugars, amino-acids, proteins and fats come from," Drax spoke, "Do they, like - synthesize them, or extract them from some other, natural source?"

"The paste they probably just synthesize," Jassa frowned, "And as for the soylent, I don't buy into those disgusting rumors about it being made of recycled corpses and crap, even if it does taste the part!"

"I wouldn't mind to be recycled into food when I die," Drax spoke, his tone doing little to suggest he was jesting, "That way, I could contribute even in death by keeping someone else in the fight."

"But then you'd be turned into shit," Jassa argued.

"Which would get recycled into soylent again!" Drax grinned, "Provided it got collected, of course."

"You are disgusting!" the girl frowned, bumping him on the shoulder with a fist, "Good thing I'm done eating!"

"Too bad," the decurion chuckled, "Or it would have been more soylent for me!"

"You could've just asked to leave some for you!" Jassa scolded him.

The two sat in silence for a while, Jassa leaning against Drax and resting her head on his armored shoulder after he didn't seem to object. Any onlooker would have immediately noted how similar they were - the same ash-blond hair, the same ice-blue eyes, the same square jaw, the main difference being that Jassa wore her hair in short curls while Drax sported a bristly flattop.

"Do you think there's a chance we might go back home after the war together?" she asked, "Or settle down somewhere else?"

"Claudia, you know I don't think that far ahead, not with what's going on around," Drax frowned, "There's a good chance none of us will be alive within an hour."

"But suppose we did live to see the end of it. What then? Would you want to... you know..."

Drax sighed. He and Jassa used to have a "thing going" in their early days out of the progenitory, and intermittently during the boot camp. Progenitors said that sexual experimentation between recently-activated birth-kin was normal, as were attractions developed during Dreamtime carrying over to real life after activation. As long as it didn't get in the way of duty, nobody really cared. Although Drax and Jassa were genetically siblings with at least one common immediate ancestor, the Sidh of the artificially-bred generations that essentially encompassed all but the very oldest of their kind were unburdened by the concept family ties and their accompanying taboos and restraints, nor in danger of unwanted or faulty procreation, so relationships like theirs was nothing out of the ordinary to be frowned upon. Still, after shipping out to war the two had agreed to keep things strictly professional between themselves, especially after Drax was promoted, for the sake of good discipline. Love is the death of duty, so had once spoken the Emperor himself - and who else than Him would know more about duty and the sacrifices required by it.

"I don't know..." the decurion frowned, "I don't pretend I will be able to just go back and play house in a peaceful life, not after all this..."

"You don't know, or you won't?" Jassa questioned, "What is all this for then, if not for the odd chance of being able to go back and, as you put it, play house? Why do we fight, if not for that possibility, however remote - if not for ourselves, then for somebody else?"

"We fight because we are warriors, and it is our duty," Drax stated, "It is what we were built for, and it is what our ancestors were built for, even if several generations of them tried hard to pretend otherwise. We are natural-born killers, Claudia. We are living weapons - and we will never be anything else, no matter how hard we try to forget our purpose. Creatures like us don't get a happily-ever-after - and frankly, I am at peace with that."

"If that is what you really believe, Arcadius..." Jassa sighed, looking away so that Drax wouldn't see a couple tears roll down her cheeks.

For a moment there, Drax felt like a complete bastard.

"If by some odd chance we both do make it," he spoke to soften his earlier statement, "I don't pretend I will be any good at it, but I am willing to give a shot at starting things over together with you."

Whether he really meant it, or simply said it to indulge Jassa and help keep her mind on the mission, Drax himself couldn't tell. The girl turned around with a light smile and pecked a quick kiss on his lips.

"Not here! We agreed..." the decurion protested, gently pushing her away.

"Right! BFFs until the end of the war, and after that we'll see..." Jassa nodded in agreement.

The dark sky outside suddenly lit up brightly, the distant rumble of war being replaced with the blood-curdling howl of thousands of artillery shells and rockets. Moments later, the cacophonic roar of artillery arrived from the direction of Sidh lines.

"Get ready, here it comes!" Drax noted, engaging his helmet and reaching out to help Jassa up.
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The Carcosan Herald

Senior Member
(this critique is for all three parts of TOP - for those of you who haven't got a clue what I'm about to start talking about, the other two parts can be found here and here)

About time we got something from the Sidhverse's Age of War. Part of me wanted it to remain a background event in the overall narrative, shrouded in mystique just as historical events are in the real world to those who didn't live through them. But you've delivered more than enough with this introduction to the halcyon days of everyone's favourite grizzled, straight-talking, sensitive-as-a-haymaker-punch archistrategos.

Throughout all three pieces, it's easy to see you've gone all-in on the Terminator future war aesthetic - a grungy, blasted hellscape where survivors crawl through ruins patrolled by death machines. I can already hear Brad Fiedel's synths in my mind as I read. In the first part, combine that with the revelation that this used to be a beautiful nature reserve, the background mention of heinous atrocities and the immediate past where it was Sidh against Sidh, and Drax's bitter cynicism toward peace-era Imperial society to create a heavy atmosphere of terror and despair. It goes perfectly with the First World War-esque atmosphere that dominates the second part, where the threat of death doesn't just come from the enemy, but vicious predators, plummeting starships and even the environment itself. Finally, in piece the third, there comes the hammer-blow revelation that the world everybody's fighting so viciously for is lost anyway.

It's also nice to see some quasi-romantic interaction between Drax and Jassa. Considering what veteran Sidhverse readers know of the former as one who is decisively not into romantic relations, the situation really does have to be totally porked to see Drax unveil a more tender side to one of his peers. It gives his character another layer that is rarely witnessed in pieces set in the 2640s (i.e. the 'present' Sidh year) to prove he's so much more than a snarky old general with an oversized sword and a vocabulary that could send even Gordon Ramsay reeling. All together, and The Omega Protocol ably presents the Age of War as so much more than just another conflict - this is a fight for the Sidh race itself. Defeat doesn't just mean a few reparations paid to the victorious power, but total annihilation.

As should be apparent by now, this short novella is as fertile a ground for criticism as the surface of the moon is for growing wheat. Truly, the only gripes I managed to dig out (and it took a lot of digging) pertained mainly to grammar, spelling and text blocks (the latter I personally don't actually mind, but others have brought it up before). For example, embarrassment and its assorted derivatives are spelled with two Rs rather than one. Aside from that, I would say that currently, The Omega Protocol represents the apex of your writing prowess. I'm more than looking forward to the next chapter(s) in this dark tale of valour.