21 – Quietus

It had been three weeks since Rikter Svalti’s hunting trip with Minister Gresken. The doors to the barracks opened, and in walked the Elestan Revenant sporting a black shirt and gray pants. The barracks was a long room within the small Republic corvette that served as shared-sex quarters for Quietus of Hiracet. Even the head beyond the barracks’ forward door was intended for simultaneous use by both sexes. On the aft wall was another door that connected to the armory. Recessed bunks lined both walls all the way through and were separated by storage lockers. In the middle of the barracks was a long table with several chairs. There was enough room to move around, but everything was packed together as tightly as possible before becoming too uncomfortable.

     Jade Valaa had been waiting for him to return from the front of the ship. She leaned on the wall next to her recessed bunk and wore only a white top. Her red Yeran skin and long bronze hair set her ablaze relative to the dark gray walls of the ship.

     “We’re suiting up in ten,” Svalti told Jade in his Persean accent, noting her readiness represented by her bare skin from the waist down. He untucked his shirt and took it off, displaying his Brand of Revenancy across his back. The bottom of Jade’s Brand was just visible below her top. “Where the hell is everybody?” he asked as he folded his shirt on the center table.

     “I’m over here,” said Itagoreth Ransun, waving his dark Terran arm out of his bunk. His head was smooth and tattooed patterns ran down both of his arms.

     “You heard me, Itagoreth?” Svalti yelled toward him.

     “Yes sir, I did!” Itagoreth was listening to music through a pair of earphones that were clasped to his auricles. “Suiting up in ten!”

     Jade stepped away from the wall to stand next to him, and then she said, “Jon and Vald are in the head.” Svalti turned to put his shirt on his bunk, and then faced her as she continued. “Dreth is in the mess, and Aran and Tykon are setting up in the armory.”

     “Thanks, Jade,” he told her, and at that moment Dreth Wade walked through the port doorway drinking from a cup in his hand. Jade crossed her arms as Svalti said, “Good. Four to go. Keep these beasts under control for me. I’ll be right back.” He patted her shoulder as he took off toward the head.

     “You’ve got it,” she told him. Jade was Svalti’s second-in-command, had been around since the beginning of their special unit, and while she did not blindly follow his orders, her loyalty to him was unmatched. Walking over to Itagoreth’s bunk, she grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to his feet, telling him it was “Time to get up.”

     “Is that any way to treat a dead man?” he asked, unclasping his earphones from his ears. He turned his body sideways and stood from the bunk. On the other side of the barracks, Dreth chugged the remaining liquid in his cup and slammed it on the table in his usual way. One look at Jade or Rikter was all he needed to step back in line, and other than their attitudes, there was nothing particularly imposing about either of them; however, Dreth was a large person, towering at two-point-two meters. He was born from the womb; a living example of the kind of men that flesh and blood could still breed.

     In the head which was devoid of dividers or stalls, Svalti stepped up to one of the latrines, unfastened his fly, and urinated into the dry bowl. There was a hose on the side of each toilet designed for use by either a male or female in during gravitics failure. Svalti refastened his fly while he watched the bowl be cleansed with cleaning solution. Looking to either side, he saw Jon and Vald relieving themselves. Facing the bathroom door and about to leave, he shouted “Let’s go-o-o-o! Pinch it off!” He heard one toilet flush, and then the other. Finally, Jon and Vald emerged from the head and Svalti herded them into the barracks.

     “We’re ready in the armory,” Aran Eda called, a Terran still in her full uniform who just emerged from the armory door with Tykon Marsar. “Svalti and Jade, you two first,” Aran told them.

     “Attention!” Svalti yelled. “Get ready to suit up!” Svalti and the others took off whatever remaining clothing they had on and lined up in the armory. Svalti and Jade walked onto separate pads in the middle of the room. Once their bodies were in an upright and balanced standing position, they were locked in lumionic stasis. These pads were fabricators. A polyalloy bodysuit slowly crept up Svalti and Jade’s legs and bodies. This Novekk bodysuit differed from Avond’s in that it had absolutely no modesty. Everything, including genitalia, were still visible on a soldier. After the bodysuit was generated, the bulky Type-M power armor grew upon the bodysuit like a self-assembled construct that still looked inorganic like a product of industrial manufacturing. Normal Type-M was metallic slate in appearance, but Quietus of Hiracet’s was all matte black. Quietus’ suits were also equipped with personal, miniature jump drives that would allow them to strike at the heart of enemy installations in the contested Persean Rift.

     The fabrication of the bodysuit and Type-M took forty-five seconds. Once Svalti and Jade were fully armored, they were released from stasis and walked off the pad, allowing the next soldiers to step on. The thick armor conformed to everyone’s unique body-shapes differently, but without their HUDs, it would have been difficult to tell each other apart. Once everyone was in armor, they all grabbed their prefabricated weapons and awaited orders.

     “We’re approaching blink distance, Revenants,” said the captain of the ship over intercom. Svalti’s team was waiting in the armory. “You should see your destination now.” Svalti looked around the room until he found a marker on his helmet’s HUD.

     “Destination acknowledged,” Svalti told the captain, pointing in its direction so that everyone in his team could see. “Look alive, Quietus!” Svalti shouted to the team. He could see their distance to the target shrinking. “Blink in twenty seconds.” The ship rocked from weapons impacting on its lumionic shielding. “Ten seconds. Five… four… three… two… one… jump now now now!” All eight of them were enveloped by spherical artificial wormholes that opened and closed faster than a human eye could see. Their sudden subspace jumps produced deafening shockwaves in both the armory and the room in which they arrived while also releasing bursts of heat and light. Blinking was not a stealth tactic, but stealth would detract from their overt shock-and-awe style.

     Quietus had blinked into a cargo hold of an omnium refinery ship. They all appeared in midair and fell to the floor. Blast doors decorated with the Alliance’s green Astral Archer emblem closed before and behind them, the interior lights turned red, sirens sounded, and two ceiling turrets dropped down to greet them. The Republic soldiers spread out, ducked behind cargo containers, and quickly dispatched the turrets with their heavy assault drivers. The Alliance was getting into the habit of arming the interiors as well as the exteriors of its deep space industrial ships to defend them against strike teams like Svalti’s. Quietus’ directive was to secure, and in situations where that was not possible or feasible, destroy. The corvette was already in a subspace corridor on the way back to Republic zones in the Rift.

     “Vald, you’re up,” Svalti said.

     “Yes sir,” Vald acknowledged, moving to override the door’s locking mechanism with a hacking suite built into his suit. He had to maintain direct contact to the door’s controls with his hand to sustain his connection. It did not help that the Alliance tended to isolate ship systems from one another. Had this been a Federation ship, he could have accessed anything from anywhere, but the Federation’s defensive software was far more robust and would have retaliated against his Type-M, possibly killing him.

     “Twenty soldiers behind that door,” Jade noted from their mass scanners.

     “Take cover,” Svalti ordered. Once the doors opened, fire flooded into the room from the outside hallway. The Alliance soldiers stormed into the cargo hold and unleashed molten metal rounds they called thermal slugs—more popularly known as slag. The barrage caused the lumionics on some of their suits to automatically harden against it—the Republic “invulnerability field” consisting of a nanoscopic meshwork of cross-linked lumions. Quietus responded with plasma charges—plasma rounds encapsulated within an insulating casing. The Alliance slag built up on whatever it hit, glowing yellow and dripping to the floor. The Republic charges opened on impact, releasing the plasma inside that burned holes through tissue and structure. Several Alliance soldiers dropped in seconds. The survivors retreated back into the hallway firing molten metal at the reinforced crates Quietus was taking refuge behind.

     “Jade, you have point,” Svalti told her. “Move out.” Jade leaped over a container and sprayed charges down the hall toward the Alliance who were crouching behind support structures stretching from the walls. Hardening her lumionics, she charged into the corridor against a hail of slag—the molten metal bouncing off of the shield and landing in yellow-orange clumps on the floor. She did not stop until she was safely behind one of the solid, buttress-like structures. The slag ceased, and Quietus used the lull to move deeper down the corridor. Ahead of her team, Jade could feel and hear a rhythmic vibration.

     “Heavy!” she cried. From around a corner appeared an Alliance heavy assault exosuit, lumbering with the posture and heavy steps of a giant primate. To one of its modular arms was attached a rotary machine gun firing an unrelenting torrent of conventional bullets. To the other was a cannon firing explosive charges. The unceasing sound of whizzing bullets and their impacts was broken by booms of fiery blasts. Cracks and craters formed in the floor and walls. Smoke was being sucked out of the corridor through the ventilation system.

     “Dreth! Decommission this bastard!” Svalti shouted. Dreth moved a missile launcher from behind his back and over his shoulder that remained attached to his suit. Hardening his shields, he jumped from cover into the middle of the corridor. An explosive charge hit him right in the chest and detonated, sending him backward onto the floor.

     “Dreth!” Aran shouted.

     “Pig,” Dreth muttered. He raised his upper half from the floor, took aim, and fired his shoulder launcher. The missile exploded against the exosuit’s shielding. Most of the blast was concentrated in a small point ahead of the missile, overloading lumionic systems and penetrating the armor plating. Still firing the machine gun, the exosuit stumbled and crashed onto the floor, landing on its side; a glowing hole straight through the torso section containing the pilot. As the suit lost power, the machine gun slowed to a stop, and the corridor was quiet. Itagoreth helped Dreth to his feet and Quietus continued down the corridor until they reached the junction from which the heavy emerged.

     “Three teams,” said Svalti. “Jade, with me to the bridge. Vald, Tykon, and Aran to engineering. Itag, Dreth, and Jon to processing. You know the drill.” From there, each team left down a different corridor.

     “Are you ready?” Jade asked Svalti. Their suits’ built-in sensors illuminated the bridge crew behind the bulkhead. Four guards lied dead within the short, narrow corridor, and debris from two exploded ceiling cannons littered the ground. Glowing slag flowed slowly down the wall behind them. Separating Svalti and Jade from the bridge was an impenetrable blast door.

     “I am,” he said. Svalti gave the countdown, and both commandos blinked onto the bridge. All of the Alliance crew were caught off guard. Some collapsed from the sudden explosive entry. They directed their focus away from the door that was previously barring entry and trained their weapons on Svalti and Jade. A hail of slag poured from the Alliance guns, but it all landed on hardened lumionics and rolled off like water on a hydrophobic surface—that is, until Svalti and Jade’s invulnerability systems reset from overuse and entered a cooldown period. Both of the Republic soldiers stood side-by-side, blasting the Alliance personnel above them while trying to avoid destroying important computer terminals. Svalti’s shields were the first to fail, reaching zero lumionic field potential in seconds. Jade’s were saturated, and she was quickly losing her own field’s potential. Slag was sticking to Svalti’s armor. He could feel the heat creeping into his suit. It would not be long until he burned to death in his own armor. Jade grabbed him and moved behind a low wall toward the bridge’s upward sloping windows. The bridge, like most Alliance ships, was located at the bottom of the ship, and both of them were crouching on OPEL panel floors.

     “Stay down!” she told him before raising herself back up. Svalti scraped his hands frantically across the globs of molten metal on his suit which was already beginning to harden. Their suits were designed to handle extreme environments; not baths in lava. Jade’s shields failed as a plasma charge took off half of the last Alliance officer’s head. After sweeping the room with her eyes and sensors once more, she dropped back down to him and asked “Are you okay?”

     “The suit’s cooling down,” he said. “I’ll be fine.” Svalti’s shields were restored, and much of the slag was sloughed off by them.

     “Good,” she said. “The dead don’t die.” Jade helped Svalti stand and they moved to the terminals.

     “Quietus, report,” Svalti called through his suit’s comms system.

     “Engineering secure,” said Vald.

     “Processing secure,” said Jon.

     Svalti approached the bridge communications terminal and sent out a ship-wide message stating “This vessel has been commandeered by the People’s Interstellar Republic. Anyone found aboard unaffiliated with the Republic Military will be considered stowaways and will be hunted down and swiftly executed. You have been warned.” From the bridge windows, Svalti and Jade caught glimpses of engine fire from escape pods heading into the belt full of frozen meteoroids among which the refinery ship sat in orbit around a massive ice giant.

     “We’re detecting jump signatures,” said Jade. “Alliance craft. They’ll be here any minute.”

     “Prepare for hyperwarp,” said Svalti to his entire team after situating himself at the helm. After several acknowledgments, Svalti chose a set of coordinates back toward the Republic-controlled Persean Rift, and Quietus with their freshly-acquired Alliance omnium refinery ship escaped into hyperdimensional transit.

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