Naguis’Voxavit Kamren Thansil relaxed as he stretched out naked on the table, enjoying the sensation of the purposeful, massaging hands moving across his back. The tropical atmosphere was thick with the smell of herbs and sweet fragrances, clearing his sinuses and allowing him to take deep, filling breaths of air. The Ascendancy’s premier envirodeck was reserved exclusively for officers of prestige and those who had earned considerable honor in service. It was also the spa that the Vox’Donn himself – the ship’s admiral and task force commander – also frequented, making it an honor indeed for visiting soldiers. As Wing Commander of the Black Rain flight group, Kamren Thansil was one such distinguished officer.
The sound of soothing, natural music played softly throughout the deck, caressing his ears and further helping to relax the worries of military life. It was a luxury not often afforded in times of war. Every soldier’s service was rewarded based on the quality of his service and his accomplishments. Whether it was the pleasure of a warm meal or a free hour on the Titan’s most luxurious envirodeck, everyone was duly rewarded.
Kamren sighed as the expert hands of his masseur worked the tightness out of his back muscles, pressing hard at first, then softening into a rhythmic pattern in tune with the music. Aromatic oils were applied next, sending icy fingers crawling over his skin, to be replaced just as quickly by a warmth that bled into his battle-weary bones. The scent of the fragrances was strong and intoxicating. For a while he just lay there on the verge of semi-consciousness, letting his mind focus away from his worries, into the bliss of nothingness.
Though his eyes were closed, he still saw a darkening of vision as a shadow moved overhead. All too soon, he thought.
The comforting hands leaving his back, Kamren let his mind return to the senses of his corporeal body, and he pushed himself up slowly, swinging his legs around to sit on the raised bed. His masseur politely stepped away, leaving Kamren alone with the visitor. Sweat dripped down from his bangs onto the bridge of his nose, and rivulets slowly made their way down his bare skin, caused by the high humidity of the tropical environment, but he ignored them. Raising his head, he turned his eyes toward the figure standing at the front of the bed.
“I am sorry for disturbing you sir,” his second in command apologized.
“What is it, Vos?” he asked, studying the man’s face. Vos Quinlan was in full uniform, meaning he still on duty, probably coming from the Wing’s own hangar section. “I see this is not a social occasion,” he noted.
“Again, my apologies, Naguis’Voxavit. I have news that could not wait, and you wanted to be informed of any changes.”
Kamren nodded his acceptance. Outstripping Kamren by a good two hand-lengths, Vos cut an imposing figure, especially in uniform. His shock of blonde hair, almost white, and piercing blue eyes clearly denoted him as being from the outer provinces. Kamren on the other hand was shorter, with dark hair and eyes, and skin that was tanned a brownish-gold. Whenever he and his second traveled together, the differences between them were impossible not to notice.
“So, we have finally arrived in enemy territory, then?” Kamren asked.
“More than that, actually,” Vos said. “The first wave of attacks has already been completed.”
Kamren blinked in astonishment. The news had caught him completely unawares. “How can that be? I saw the Vox’Donn here half an hour ago.” He looked across the columned, marble atrium to the hot spring, disguised by a small forest of tropical trees and plants.
“I just received word myself,” Vos explained.
After a moment’s hesitation, Kamren nodded. “Indeed. I will meet you at the entrance. Allow me a moment to change.”
His second bowed and turned to leave. For a moment, Kamren remained seated, allowing his body and mind to draw back out of their immersion in the false environment. He took several deep breaths of the enriched tropical air, gazing around at the wonderful and unbelievably realistic environment. One would never suspect that he was on a ship at all. Above him, a deep blue sky stretched endlessly, punctuated by a few of the brightest stars. Mountains ringed the horizon, which was turning a deep red and gold from the setting sun. Over the summits to the east hung a ringed planet, the world around which this artificial satellite orbited. In fact, this place was an exact duplication of the pleasure moon Torinn’Vinn and the famous spa there. It was set up as a sort of acropolis, with multiple baths and columned buildings offering various services to its guests, and outside a jungle held an array of natural hot springs and beds of comfortable nakti plants. A myriad of vines and colored tapestries hung from the ceilings, and beautiful, exotic species of aliens roamed the grounds, offering refreshments or playing delicate music. It was a paradise, one of the best in their home galaxy, and duplicated down to the finest detail here on the Titan-class Battleship Ascendancy. It was often joked that without such replicas among the Altarin’Dakor fleet, the soldiers would never have left their home galaxy at all. Being here, in the barbarians’ galaxy, was like abandoning civilization altogether.
But enough reminiscing, he thought. This is a battleship, not a pleasure yacht. It was time to go.
Rising, he pulled his robe on over his naked body and made his way across the atrium’s marble floor, past other beds where more fortunate subjects were still enjoying their massages. In the changing and locker area, he afforded himself a quick shower to wash away the sweat and oils covering his body, then changed into his uniform proper. As the last button snapped into place at his collar, the laid-back, leisure-loving Kamren Thansil ceased to exist, cast aside with his robe and replaced by the hardened, focused soldier underneath – a human weapon. This uniform redefined him, or rather brought out his true self, outwardly displaying the change that took place within. Now he was Nagius’Voxavit Kamren Thansil, Wing Commander of the Black Rain flight group. Now he had only one goal: to obey the commands of his superiors and to help bring about the Return as expediently as possible.
He met his second in command at the entrance. Vos was already starting to sweat in the humidity, and Kamren could feel it clinging inside his newly-donned uniform, as well. Together they passed by the registration office and through the front entrance, into the large waiting airlock and turbolift. The doors closed behind them, and the air began to cycle automatically as the two officers waited. Meanwhile, the car traveled downward, taking them deeper into the lower levels of the ship. Slowly, the thicker air was supplanted by the cool, dry air put out by the ship’s ventilation systems. The contrast was so great that Kamren could actually see the line of thicker air being pushed out, starting at their feet and moving up their bodies, passing their heads and finally flushing out the vents in the ceiling. Instantly, Kamren felt a chill as the cooler air settled around him, setting his skin crawling.
Then the cycle was complete, and the lift came to a stop. The outer doors opened, and the two officers emerged into the bustling, military interior of the Ascendancy.
“All right, tell me what you know,” Kamren said as they marched through the corridor. He kept to the right side near the wall, as beings of numerous species continuously filed past going the other way.
“Apparently the first battle group arrived in enemy space a short while ago and has already subdued one of their systems near our sector base, which the outlanders call Mizar.”
“Yes, I extensively studied the records of the battle there. The Cataclysm dealt them a harsh blow, an accomplishment considering we had just lost our sector task force commander.” Kamren nodded in satisfaction. He didn’t know who had been commanding the forces here in this sector, but he had apparently been defeated because the forces at Mizar had been milling about aimlessly without a commanding officer, something like a headless viper. There had been a lack of foresight in the abilities of these outlanders.
Vos nodded as they continued down the brightly-lit corridor. “And now we’ve begun to further injure them with this attack. They won’t be able to stop this task force, Commander. By the time we are finished, this ‘New Imperium’ will have ceased to exist.”
“Don’t dismiss them so lightly,” he told Vos, sidestepping to avoid a squad of huge, burly Thoktil marines marching past the other way. “It is easy to talk about victory, but in actuality it takes much time and effort. The outlanders have shown a remarkable resilience and luck, if not outright skill.”
“Luck. It must be. I can’t believe that they purposefully blunted our first offensive, when they hardly even knew of our existence at that time,” Vos countered.
They had made their way through the corridor and into one of the ship’s many ferry stations. A series of docks held waiting cars that every few moments would zip along their tracks, taking passengers to distant parts of the ship. For their journey to the hangar, they would have to board the appropriate car. After all, they could hardly take the time to make the fifteen-kilometer trip on foot.
Kamren and Vos entered the appropriate car and settled into its secure seating as the shuttle whisked them through the long tunnel toward the aft of the ship. At thirty-two standard kilometers in length, the Ascendancy was a colossal warship capable of laying waste to entire planets and subjugating whole star systems. She might not be as big or impressive as the Cataclysmor the other largest Titans, but she was still a Titan in every right. With over two thousand fighters in ten different wings, she was the equivalent of an entire fleet in herself. Though not the largest or best-armed Titan in the fleet, the Ascendancy was nevertheless a legend, renowned for countless victories across two dozen millennia of service. She was ancient, dating back to the Great War, and just serving on this ship - or any Titan - was one of the highest honors an Altarin’Dakor warrior could receive.
In this campaign, however, she was not alone, but one of four separate Titans that had just recently entered New Imperium space. Each Titan led its own separate task force of corvettes, cruisers, destroyers, carriers, and battlecruisers. In addition, multiple task forces would be working together in some engagements. In Kamren’s opinion, such a force sent to eliminate such a tiny threat seemed overkill in the extreme, even by Altarin’Dakor standards. But the enemy had proven quite resilient already, so he understood why the fleet didn’t want to take any chances this time. Better to completely overwhelm them than rely on precisely laid-out strategies.
And yet, the fleet had attacked without his even being informed. It was this kind of negligence of certain forces that was the major drawback of being part of a huge task force. Besides, what he’d heard so far indicated that maybe they were following someone’s meticulous strategy after all. Either way, he knew it was useless to try and guess about things without the proper knowledge. His orders would come down from command soon.
Moments later, the car slowed to a stop, and the two exited, emerging on the main flight level. Unlike some ships, the Ascendancy had a separate hangar for every two wings, meaning there were five hangars spaced throughout the vessel. Two were amidships on either side, and two more were near the aft under the ship’s broad wings. A fifth was located on the upper side of the ship. This provided ample space for the Titan’s compliment of starfighters. The hangar designated for the Black Rain Wing was on the port side, aft.
The hangar bay was bustling with activity, confirming Vos’ words that the ship was on full alert and located inside enemy territory. The whole hangar was a well-lit, massive open space half a kilometer across, with the many fighters in his wing spaced out in multiple recessed sections. Ships were just now coming in from patrol while others were on their way out, and crews and technicians ran across the expansive, shiny hard deck, carrying supplies, refueling ships, and performing maintenance. Here, the air was even colder than the rest of the ship, with only the atmospheric shielding over the hangar’s two exits preventing the air from leaking out into space. In the dry atmosphere, the scent of grease, smoke and fuel was thick in the air, and he breathed it admiringly. It was a welcome friend to a veteran pilot.
“This way sir; you’ll want to see this,” Vos spoke up.
Vos lead him across the deck to the edge of exit two, a massive hole in the hangar floor allowing ships to launch out of the ship’s bottom. Only a protective railing was between Kamren and a bottomless fall as he looked down into space below. But instead of the familiar blackness of space, he saw a world suspended, looking just a bit larger than both his hands held out at arm’s length. He hadn’t known the Ascendancy was in a planet’s orbit.
“I heard that the outlanders call this the Danube System,” Vos said, struggling over the foreign terminology. “but only the second planet here was inhabited.”
Was, Vos had said. Kamren understood why. The planet seemed to be covered completely by water, which was not so uncommon a sight, but instead of a deep cerulean streaked with white clouds, this world was fast becoming a dark, lifeless ball. Its oceans had already turned green, and were darkening to brown in some places. The clouds had become a dirty brownish black. This was obviously the work of a well-placed biological/chemical strike, the first major blow to be dealt in this operation. A fitting fate for the barbarians. He’d heard that other forces had subdued a system or two, but this was the first inhabited New Imperium world to fall. He smiled wistfully. If only his squadron could have taken part in the first strike…
“What did you hear?” he asked Vos without turning from the scene.
“Our forces moved in quickly and cut off all their communications. We already had ships in the area to stop escapees – no one got out. There were no real defense systems worthy of speaking of, so this was a quick and bloodless victory. I believe the Vox’Indant wanted the planet rendered uninhabitable, since we obviously have no use for it.”
“Of course,” Kamren said. This would be the first payback for what the outlanders had done to the initial invasion force at Mizar. And furthermore, for the embarrassing defeat that had driven his people from this galaxy a thousand generations ago. He would be sure to send copies of the engagement back to his wife and son. They would be proud to see this.
“What’s that just passing over the planet?” he asked, pointing to a distant object just visible against the dark hue of the world. “Is that he Hegemony?”
Vos squinted and leaned forward a bit, as if being that much closer would help. “I believe so… She must have performed the bombing.”
“Lucky van’brak,” Kamren said, shaking his head. Again, too many ships had meant less action. “Both Titan’s weren’t needed to take this system, not as lightly defended as it was. We must be using it as a staging point.” The Desolation and the Annihilator would also be in NI space by now. Never had he heard of this many ships being used together in such close proximity. Almost half the task force’s Titans in one sector! Kamren intended to get the Black Rain into the action, before this conflict was over before it even started.
“All right,” he said, pushing back from the railing. “Call the Wing and tell them to report for briefing at 1800 hours. I’ll be in Command and Control for a strategic update.”
“Yes… regarding that,” Vos spoke up, his voice a bit hesitant. “You do recall that Voxavit Jukor and Voxavit Tryn are scheduled to honor duel at 1700, correct?”
“Ah, that.” Kamren shook his head. “They will have to make it fast. I’ll be there personally for this one.”
Vos arched an eyebrow, then saluted and proceeded out to fulfill his orders. Alone, Kamren started for the lift that would take him toward Command and Control. He was going to get his Wing involved in the next engagement. And then the outlanders would be up against odds so poor that no amount of luck could save them.
* * *
Outskirts of Vectur
1040 Hours Local Time Jac Railler, as he was now known, stooped down to gather a couple more vegetables hanging from the tender green plant at his knees. It was but one of a long row, and that one of several rows, in his garden, behind the flat he was renting on the outskirts of Vectur, capital of Varnus. The city, its skyscrapers rising impossibly high off in the distance, was just too big and bustling, too hectic and out of touch with nature for his tastes, now. He’d had more than enough of that in another life.
Unfortunately he couldn’t escape entirely. Fate was not so kind to Jac Railler. The spot he had originally chosen to escape to, a newly colonized world called Haven in the Satyr system, had been suddenly and violently attacked by an enemy more terrible than he’d ever known, one that called themselves the Altarin’Dakor. Having seen thousands abducted or brutally murdered in front of his eyes, he’d had no choice but to fight back, and eventually escape, bringing what refugees he could here to the heavily protected world of Varnus. But even that wasn’t to be the end of his battles. He’d spoken with the Grand Master of the New Imperium’s Jedi Division and had been offered a commission to train the soldiers here. Faced with a choice of being annihilated by the deadliest threat the galaxy has ever faced, or taking up arms to fight for hope and freedom, there was little choice to be made.
Besides, there was something in Xar Kerensky that had captured his imagination, and inspired a sense of loyalty that Railler thought he could never have again. Maybe it was the charisma the man had, the intensity with which he pursued his goal of defeating the enemy. Or perhaps it was his power, his abilities in the mysterious Force, that Jac’s former master had commanded as well. Whatever it was, the impression had been made, and Jac had agreed. He’d even given the man Cozeeke, his loyal multipurpose droid, to archive the ongoing struggle against the Altarin’Dakor and offer whatever services he could give. Jac hadn’t had nearly as much need of the droid here, anyway.
He reached down again and poured a nice amount of water over the he’d been tending, giving it a drink to help settle it in and spur further growth, then he moved toward the next one down the line.
Suddenly the low roar of a repulsorlift engine sounded across the field, and before he could even see it, he knew an airspeeder was approaching. After a moment, he could make out a dark speck coming his way from the city, and as it grew larger, he saw that it was a personal-sized craft, made to carry only three or four and built for speed.
Within moments the airspeeder came to rest just outside the property line, which was fortunate not to bump up against anyone else’s property. His flat here had lots of space, something he’d hoped would help him feel like he was away from the war that was raging. He was never more than a few minutes’ ride from the city, however. The guard was performing well, but there was always work to be done.
The man that emerged from the airspeeder wore the duty uniform of the New Imperium armed forces, with the insignia of the Royal Varnusian Palace on the breast. Jac knew it wasn’t a social call. A pity; he had wanted to harvest a few more vegetables that were producing here in the autumn, before the weather turned too cool and the plants went into hibernation.
The officer approached and saluted, cutting off his train of thought. “Sir,” the man said crisply. “Sorry to disrupt your leave, but there have been important new developments and your attention has been requested.”
“It’s all right,” Railler said, waving the man down. “What’s happened?”
“Command believes we are under attack from the Altarin’Dakor once again, sir. We have lost all contact with the Danube System, and we think that this could just be the beginning of a new phase in their assault.”
Jac nodded, taking in the report. Dire news, indeed.
“I have been sent to ask you to accompany me back to the Varnusian Palace to prepare for impending enemy activity,” the man continued.
“Understood. I will be right out, Jac replied. Turning, he set a quick pace back toward his flat to gather his things. This could be it, he realized. His respite has been all too brief here. If this was the invasion they’d all been dreading, he knew he wasn’t likely to be back here for quite some time.
* * *
Basra Refinery Base
Basra System, NI Territory
1700 Hours The planet Basra was a lonely, barren, gray rock orbiting a small blue star, about forty light-years from Varnus in one direction and twenty light-years from the edge of the Galbagos Nebula on the other. Totally devoid of life or any redeeming reasons for colonization, it did however contain one particularly useful resource – bountiful sources of the crude liquids which were needed to refine common fuels, used in everything from ground transportation to starfighters. Upon discovering its wealth in raw materials the New Imperium had established a large mining base there to extract them. And in orbit of the planet, directly over the base, was the Basra Refinery Base, a space station made to refine the product immediately and ship it throughout the NI worlds. The central tall cylinder housed the refinery itself, while spanning around its side was a wide ring of living quarters, offices and docking bays. At 1000 meters in diameter, it was a respectable production facility, one that had turned a tidy profit for the NI and saved much in fuel-import savings.
Suddenly, lines of starfighters began to appear out of the darkness, space around them rippling as they powered down their cloaking systems, not for any need to raise shields or target weapons, but so their pilots could acquire greater honor in the sport of the kill. Only the smallest strike force was needed to eliminate such an insignificant target – and Altarin’Dakor hated to share their battle glory.
The two squadrons of fighters that had de-cloaked immediately opened fire on the station’s essential systems – shield generators, communications arrays and power generators. Striking with precision, the fighters unleashed their beam weapons and missiles, blasting sensor dishes, cutting through power conduits and destroying the shield generators before they could even be brought online.
A single destroyer-class vessel de-cloaked then, flanked by two corvettes, immediately opening fire with beam weapons into the interior production cylinder of the station. Fire blossomed out at their touch, cutting through durasteel hull and opening the breached areas to vacuum. In response, the station’s defensive turbolaser and blaster turrets opened up, sending red streams of light out into the void. But the beams simply impacted harmlessly on the shields of ship and fighter alike. The Altarin’Dakor were not so easily dissuaded.
By this time the station’s patrol ships and the defensive fighters stationed inside were launching into the fray, an assortment of vintage-design fighters from New Republic and Imperial days. X-Wings, A-Wings, and shielded TIE Interceptors and a squadron of TIE Advanced came out of the hangars and scattered in search of targets. Unfortunately, their efforts were too little to stop the inevitable. The Altarin’Dakor fighters swooped down on them with greater speed and accuracy than the NI ships could match. In the ensuing melee, the NI forces were quickly routed. The AD lost half a dozen ships, but the NI fighters were wiped out, cut in half by beam weapons and turned into expanding balls of gas by Shockwave missiles.
The destroyer and corvette continued to rain fire into the heart of the station, igniting its storehouses of raw and refined fuel. The fuel went up in a chain reaction, consuming the refinery from the inside out, then continuing through conjoining corridors into the ring surrounding the center. In moments the station was breaking up, the last of its fuel and atmosphere burning away quickly in the airlessness of space.
But the Altarin’Dakor appetite was far from satiated. With the NI fighter cover obliterated, the AD fighters dove for the surface, gaining the first strikes against the helpless mining colonies below. Beam weapons tore open ground structures and ignited more fuel repositories, causing flaring explosions and opening the buildings to near-vacuum.
As the fighters pulled out of their initial strike, the destroyer’s larger beam weapons opened up from orbit, stabbing down into the deep holding tanks and even into the deep mining shafts. The NI mining base was suddenly covered in flames as massive explosions leveled any remaining structures that were standing.
The final blow came several minutes later, when as a parting shot the destroyer sent a high explosive orbital fusion bomb down the main mining shaft entrance of the colony. The resulting explosion sent massive gouts of flame pouring back out the entrance and burning deep inside through the mining tunnels as well. With a final, silent implosion the mine itself collapsed, sealing the destruction inside. If the NI ever returned to this world, they would have to find a new place to settle.
With nothing left to destroy, the Altarin’Dakor vessels began to pull away, disappearing behind their cloaks as they did so. Behind them, the scattered pieces of the station marked a desolate graveyard for the station’s 3,000 inhabitants, and the burning crater on the surface a funeral pyre for the 1,000 that had been on the surface. As the invading ships vanished into the darkness of space, there was little sign that anyone had ever set foot in the Basra System.
Varnusian Productions Presents:
The Second Great War 1: