At that same moment, Fiori contacted Kyora to tell the phantom that she could proceed with her part of the plan. Kyora forwarded the command to her subordinate phantoms. Having eventually found a way into the omnimology lab without alerting the elsheem, several phantoms in full shrouding stood motionless and silent. On their colonel’s order, they grabbed the hostage-takers from behind, lifted the SIRAC blades they all carried in their right hands, coated them in plasma, and shoved them into the hearts of the elsheem soldiers. The knives burned through lumionic shielding, armor, skin, muscle, bone, and right through myocardium, cauterizing all tissue and vaporizing blood. The scientists beneath them heard the pops and sizzles of plasma striking flesh, and the odor of incinerated meat filled their nostrils. As the soldiers went limp, the phantoms held their bodies tightly to prevent them from crushing the scientists. The phantoms rolled the corpses over and let each of them fall between the hostages and crumple upon the floor. Any other elsheem in the room were dispatched by a few other phantoms toting handguns.
After this brief and deadly strike, the phantoms disengaged their shrouding and revealed themselves to the scientists, most of whom shook from the adrenaline coursing through them. Namara latched onto Souq and wouldn’t let go. He felt the irregular rise and fall of her chest from her crying. The phantoms lifted the scientists to their feet and escorted them out of the lab by the way the phantoms had infiltrated.
The torpedo left its launch tube and accelerated toward the Voulgenathi. Midway through its journey, the weapon activated a very experimental system known as phasics by MARAD engineers. It is widely understood that fundamental interactions are confined to distinct “phases” (not to be confused with those of thermodynamics) within physical reality. Modern physicists estimate that there are between five and seven phases in total—possibly more—depending on the measure of the universe’s total mass and distribution of said mass that is considered.
The onboard phasics pushed the torpedo toward the high-energy, up-phase transitional boundary until the weapon began to fade from existence; however, it never quite disappeared. The torpedo slipped right through the Voulgenathi’s point-defense fire and its lumionic barrier, through its outer hull, and through the bulkheads until it was deep within the battleship. The moment the phasic system disengaged, the torpedo was instantly thrust back into the local phase. A mere moment later, the weapon detonated at the core of the Voulgenathi’s vast engineering section. Immediately unseen by those aboard the Kelsor, the ferocious blast caused a structural failure of the Voulgenathi’s primary ODEC that kept the battleship’s monstrous, un-mediated dual hyperwarp cores fed. The spontaneous loss of containment of the ODEC’s internal reaction chamber led to the rapid, uncontrollable release of plasma and traces of antimatter that flooded the department. This deluge—occurring within the span of a single second, triggered a secondary explosion, magnitudes greater than the first, that resulted in the hull failure of the majority of the battleship’s aft sections. Such a direct hit with a single torpedo against a ship with sufficient lumionic field potential and intact armor was unprecedented.
The elsheem soldiers struggling to escape the Kelsor’s bridge looked out through the forward OPEL panels and watched with horror as a significant portion of their ship’s latter half blew itself apart. Just seconds before, these soldiers had felt that the battle was theirs. Now, as they failed to secure the Kelsor’s commanders and watched their mothership be violently incapacitated, their hearts were filled with a hopelessness beyond anything they had ever experienced.
Then, a sequence of thunderous booms had the elsheem soldiers scattering—ducking for their lives. Appearing on the bridge were the Revenants of Quietus; all eight of them in their heavy, black Type-M armor. This psychological onslaught drove the elsheem commander over the edge. His eyes fixated on the Revenants as they caught their bearings after their disorienting blink. The commander could not move nor speak nor think. The Revenants raised their weapons toward the elsheem, except for Svalti who turned around to face the bridge OPEL panels.
“Wow,” Svalti commented, “looks like your ship got fucked.” Turning back toward the elsheem, he said, “I’ll give you to the count of ten before we start shooting.” Raising his weapon like the rest, he began counting. “One… two… three….”
The elsheem soldiers placed their weapons on the ground and lifted their arms. Their commander, still in shock, stood motionless like an animal caught in a pair of headlamps. His subordinates lifted his arms for him in surrender.
“Now,” Svalti continued, “back away from the door. Walk to the center of the room.” The Revenant beckoned them forth by waving his gun as he ordered them around. As they gathered in the center of the bridge, the Quietus members forced them down and made them sit. Once they had formed a tight cluster of armored bodies, Svalti messaged Atara.
“Captain, the bridge is secure.”
A minute later, the captain, her bridge officers, and the Aurora guards filed back onto the bridge. Atara, who was first to enter, was presented with a pile of sitting elsheem soldiers towered over by Republic Revenants with an orange, lumigraphic Fiori presiding over them all against a backdrop of Voulgenathi debris radiating out from its primary ODEC’s destruction ten kilometers away. Despite these circumstances, the bridge officers nonchalantly returned to their posts. Only four of the Kelsor officers displayed any reaction at all to the present situation. Atara and Sesh approached the Revenants to thank them for their assistance. Naret sat in her chair and stared at Ethis as the latter approached Quietus. Ethis moved between Atara and Sesh, brushing shoulders with them, and stood before Svalti’s Type-M—his name was marked on the suit’s right breast. Her heart raced, for during their evacuation from the bridge, the anticipation of meeting Venosk 509 again surged within her. The communications officer opened her mouth to speak, but her tongue could produce no words.
“Ethis?” Svalti asked before the mute Elestan. He took a moment to look her over, ensuring she was indeed who he thought she was. “Ethis!” The Revenant leader slid his assault driver onto his back, and with both hands, detached and removed his helmet to reveal his gray face and short, black hair. Jade, standing next to him, saw a smile she hadn’t seen in years—perhaps not since they became Revenants. Ethis wrapped her arms around his thick armor and gave him a hug that he reciprocated with his heavy arms. “What happened to you? Where did you go?”
“Survivor’s guilt,” Ethis told him softly. They let go of each other. “I watched all of you die that day.” Somberly, she added, “There is no place for a survivor in a squad of Revenants.”
Before Svalti could rebut her statement, a lumigraph appeared before Atara loud enough for all to hear. “This is Captain Raena of the Fencer,” said the woman on the other end. “We just suffered a sensors and comms blackout. What the hell happened to the Voulgenathi?” Atara didn’t have an immediate answer for her. She looked toward Fiori who was still within the room, and the orange feminine figure shook her head once.
Taking the hint, Atara responded, “We… witnessed a power spike. I think they may have tried to overload their primary ODEC.”
“For what purpose?”
“I don’t know. Good news is that the Voulgenathi is functioning on limited power now.”
“We’re seeing that, too.”
“Do you know what caused your blackout?”
“Unknown, but we’ll get back with you. Out.” Of course, Fiori would never admit to telling Rellia to blind and deafen the Fencer for the purpose of obscuring the deployment of experimental Federation weaponry.
“Okay then,” Atara said as she fabricated a handgun. Holding it to her side, she asked, “Which one of you is the leader?” The elsheem soldiers kept their heads down and remained silent. The fiery captain asked them again. “Which one is your leader?” Still nothing. She lifted the small driver, pointed it at their heads and said, “Do not make me ask you again. There has been enough bloodshed on my ship.”
“I am,” said the elsheem leader, finally breaking out of his stupor.
Atara pointed her gun at him and demanded, “Order your men to surrender.” The elshe leader put his head down. “Comply, and they will be spared.”
The elshe uttered something in Avenathi. There was a pause, and elshe’s voice grew louder and faster, like he was having an argument with his subordinates. “It is done,” he told everyone around him without looking up at Atara.
Atara beckoned to the Auroras on the bridge, and when they approached, she said, “Get these elsheem off my bridge. Your colonel will give you further orders.” An Aurora sergeant ordered the elsheem to their feet and her troops escorted the enemy boarders off the bridge floor.
“Captain,” Kyora said in a fresh lumigraph, “the elsheem are backing down. It looks like they are giving themselves up for surrender. What are your orders?”
“Round them up,” Atara told the Elestan phantom, “every last one of them. Keep them in the main hangar under heavy guard. Keep the high-value ones separated and in stasis. We’ll be keeping them in custody.”
“Understood,” Kyora responded before the lumigraph disappeared.
Svalti turned to one Revenant in particular, passed him his helmet, and then asked him, “Jon? You ready?”
“Yeah, let’s do it,” Jon responded.
Atara asked, “Do what?” as Jon, with his free hand, reached for a tiny, spherical drone on his side and tossed it into the air.
“Picture time,” Jon told her.
“Picture time?” Sesh asked.
“Sebastian Rikard is our political officer,” Svalti explained. “We just call him Jon. I know things work differently in the Federation, but in the Republic, public perception is taken very seriously.”
“Okay,” Sesh said. “Picture time.”
“Picture time,” Jon repeated, sounding eager. “Captain, if you would shake Svalti’s hand.” The Terran captain stuck out her dark gray, bodysuited hand, and Svalti grabbed it with his. Atara’s smile was reflected in Svalti’s Elestan face as the two shook hands. The tiny drone recorded the event as it floated nearby.
When they released hands, Atara said, “Any port in a storm, but I am curious. What brings the Republic all the way out here?”
“A friend in need is a friend indeed, right?” Svalti stated. “They also trafficked stolen Federation property through a Republic protectorate and killed several of our servicepeople in the process.” The drone continued snapping pictures as Atara and Svalti conversed. “Not to mention all the heartache they caused you in Tribesson.”
“Stand down intruder alert.”
“Captain? What is it?”
“Emergency meeting in the briefing room in fifteen minutes. Can you be there?”
“What about the cadets?”
“Can you escort them to their quarters on the way there?”
“I can do that.”
“Good. See you then.”
The lumigraph faded. The armored cadets looked toward Illeiri expectantly, but were immediately distracted by a group of marching elsheem soldiers just beyond the room’s walls. With hands on their heads, the soldiers in black armor were herded down the corridor under the escort of Auroras. Illeiri waited for the group to pass before speaking to the cadets.
“As you can see,” Illeiri explained, “the elsheem boarders have surrendered.”
“So, we’re going back to our quarters?” Lieren asked.
Illeiri led the cadets through the ship. Evidence of the battles were still fresh, but most of the bodies had already been removed. The small custodial drones were actively cleaning away the aftermath: blood, scorch, debris. The Kelsor’s network of autorepair REMASS fixed any and all structural damage, no matter how small, that the drones aided it in detecting.
After bringing the cadets safely to their quarters, Illeiri traveled the rest of the way alone. When she arrived, she was still foregoing her camouflage, so when she entered the briefing room, she received a fair number of stares. Kyora still had trouble looking at her. The table in the middle had been recalled, and all those present stood. The members of Quietus had their helmets removed and were holding them against their hips.
“Thank you for caring for the cadets, Krystal,” Atara told her.
“It was an honor,” Illeiri responded. “And you can call me Illeiri.”
“Thank you, Illeiri,” Atara repeated. The captain turned to the rest of the group of seventeen and said “Twenty-five minutes ago, the Voulgenathi was hit by one of our experimental weapons and sustained critical damage. According to our sensors analysis, its drive systems are completely gone as are most of its main power systems. The battleship is functioning on auxiliaries to maintain gravity, lighting, and life support across the ship, but coverage is spotty.”
Jade asked, “What kind of a weapon did you employ to inflict such damage?” At this question, both of the twin archons, Fiori and Rellia, appeared in the room.
“Among those aboard the Kelsor,” Fiori said, “only I know the details of the device used against the Voulgenathi. The weapon was a standard-yield torpedo utilizing an experimental phasic translocation system allowing it to circumvent shields, point-defenses, and armor.”
Rellia added, “I have ensured that the Fencer obtained no usable record of the device that was employed.”
“Thank you, archons,” Atara told the orange and blue figures. “We have halted our bombardment of the Voulgenathi and are preparing assault teams to invade their ship. Colonel Teseri and Lieutenant Colonel Lorralis,” she said, pointing at the two, “will lead our Aurora complement. Lorralis will lead the main assault group while Teseri will lead a small team of phantoms tasked with recovering the ecksivar sample. Because the Voulgenathi is effectively disabled, we will position the Kelsor such that our assault teams can leap across from our hangar bay into theirs.” The lumigraphic model of the Voulgenathi appeared floating within the room and showed the ship in its current state: battle damaged within a debris cloud. Those clipping through the model stepped out of the way and moved towards the room’s periphery.
Sesh walked over to where the giant hole in the Voulgenathi’s port-side was shown and stated, “We could also leap to these damaged areas.” Kyora and Virn moved to Sesh’s side of the room to investigate the destroyed sections.
“It’s not unreasonable,” Kyora said. “We may face less resistance if we enter through there, but it may be more dangerous for us because of the damage. Either way, it won’t be easy, but if I were to choose, I would prefer this entry point.”
Svalti said, “Quietus could blink deep within their ship as a distraction, giving your people even less resistance when they cross over.”
“Once you’re over there,” Xannissa said, “you need to hunt for the ecksivar. If it’s not being hit by a keywave, it won’t produce a signature. Doctor Souq, do you know a way we could detect it?”
“I’m really the wrong person to ask,” he told her. “I’m just an omnimologist, not a technician.” Xannissa directed her gaze toward Doctor Namara who shook her head.
“I can find it for you,” Illeiri said. Everyone within the room stopped and looked at the elshi with vibrant red hair. Her naked discs floated in a rotating triangle formation behind her back.
“Explain,” Atara said.
“To those who don’t already know,” Illeiri started, “my human alias was Krystal Zara. In actuality, I am Illeiri Syoness, Queen of Avenath. I wholeheartedly apologize for my deception, but I hope you all understand why it was necessary.
“All elsheem possess bioomnimic potential. This comes from our inherent bioomnimic systems that run parallel to our nervous systems. That’s why we have the avenovah, or neck circles, which form the interface between our nervous system and bioomnimic system. Of course, in order for an elsheem to be fully in-tune with their bioomnimics, they require lots of practice and training. The most gifted among us, myself included, are known as the Celornathi, or ‘Children of Power,’ and our bioomnimic potential far exceeds the norm. One of the bioomnimic system’s uses is that it allows us to perceive omnium. As a Celornath, I can feel every piece of omnium up to five kilometers away. Within two kilometers I can resolve the synthevar, such as the Federation, Republic, and Alliance aboard this ship as well as the dekacelorn—lifeblood—variety of the elsheem. For years, I was close enough to the black omnium to know what it feels like, and I can help you find it aboard their ship.”
“I never thought I’d say this,” Kyora said. “I never, ever thought I’d trust an elsheem… but I need your help.” She paused, and then continued, “You’ll need to change your combat class to phantom so you can slip in with my group.”
“Can I keep my discs?”
Upon changing her combat class to phantom, most of Illeiri’s SIRAC armor was recalled. With most of her body now covered by featureless, dark gray bodysuit, she looked very similar to Kyora.
“If you keep your discs close to your body,” Kyora explained, “your shrouding may be able to cover them.”
“If Quietus were to blink over,” Atara asked the Revenants, “where would be the best place?”
“It probably would have been the bridge,” Svalti told her, “but because its so compact, it makes it a bad jump.”
“We’re liable to end up in a wall or inside other people,” Jade clarified, “or even outside the ship.”
“Too wide is also a no-go,” Svalti said. “There is, though, a place in between.” Using a lumionic interface, Svalti caused the image of the Voulgenathi to turn transparent and zoom to a suite in the middle. “Look here,” said the Revenant as he pointed toward it. “This is the suite inhabited by the elsheem emperor and his harem of concubines. This is also where the ecksivar was found by the investigation team when our inspectors stopped them in Onen. There is no guarantee either of them will be there when we blink over, but at least going there will place us far enough away from your invasion team to serve as a decent distraction.”
“We’ll make plenty of noise for you,” Dreth said, his face grinning atop his giant frame.
“Just,” Doctor Souq started, “just don’t forget that jump drone.”
“The Voulgenathi isn’t going anywhere now,” Kyora stated. “We shouldn’t need it.”
“Personally,” Atara spoke, “I’m not willing to make that bet. You need to bring it over.”
“I’ll take responsibility for it,” Illeiri told them.
“No,” Kyora said. “You have your discs. The jump drone is my responsibility.”
“What are you all talking about?” asked Aran Eda of Quietus.
Xannissa told them, “We designed and built a miniature jump drone. It’s supposed to be our backup plan if we reach the ecksivar sample but can’t bring it back.”
“Is it a VARICOR system?” asked Tykon, Quietus’ advanced propulsion expert.
“The Federation wouldn’t go so far to rip off technology from Spatial Dynamics for this backup plan,” Jon questioned, “would they?”
“Absolutely not!” Xannissa said, raising her voice. “I designed the VARICOR system myself based on the basic principles I already know.”
Svalti smiled and asked, “Well? Does it work?”
“In simulation,” Xannissa stated with more sobriety, wishing she could have given a more definitive answer.
“Okay, you all,” Atara said, “I will direct Naret to position the starboard hangar door over the destroyed section of the Voulgenathi’s hull. Kyora, Virn, and Svalti, assemble your boarding parties in the hangar and await further instructions.” The three she mentioned gave their verbal acknowledgements, and then the captain dismissed them all.
Rather than returning to the bridge, Ethis followed the helmeted Quietus out of the briefing room. The communications officer caught up to Svalti, and when the Revenant leader noticed her walking with him, he smiled and spoke to her.
“Ethis, of all the Federation ships you could have been stationed on.”
“I know,” Ethis told him. “Now that I see you all again, I….”
“We’ve all missed you since that day,” Jade said.
“I should have died with you,” Ethis admitted. Most of the Revenants shook their heads. A few even vocalized their disagreement.
“We aren’t any better for being Revenants,” Itagoreth stated. “It just means we have a second life to give in the service of the Republic. It’s not your fault you didn’t die that day. That was fate.”
“Don’t think I didn’t see you fight,” Dreth said. “You fought just as hard, if not harder than the rest of us. Maybe that’s why you lived. You battled against death itself and won.”
“I just regret that I separated myself from you all after Kayutt,” Ethis told them. “Stupid pride. If I had the courage to overcome the emotions I felt after losing you all, I would have never left.”
“Let the past be past,” Svalti said. “Right now, we are all here, reunited for this brief moment on this Federation vessel. Even if it is for just a moment, Venosk Five-Oh-Nine is whole again.”
“Don’t die on me again.”
“The dead don’t die.”