39 – Close

The explosions from the Kelsor’s weapon blasts ceased, but the thunder from the secondary detonations of the Voulgenathi’s own machinery continued for several minutes. Damage control teams consisting of personnel and drones ran back and forth within corridors filled with emergency lights and sirens, some of which were barely functional or operating erratically. Lacking sufficient power to sustain airscreens, many of the ship’s outermost sections lacked atmosphere. Gravitics were sporadic. Bodies of the dead and dismembered floated in one stretch of corridor but lied motionless on the floor in the next stretch. The bridge was chaos.

     Despite all this, Taretes was safe in his quarters surrounded by his concubines—still naked and now frightened—and nurtured by an independent power supply. The emperor ignored the elshi and walked swiftly into one of the rooms in his capacious suite. This room was built like a cockpit with OPEL panels staring into a dark bulkhead. Taretes activated a drive system using a central console. The entire suite lurched, but he received an error warning in Avenathi: “Obstruction detected. Unable to disembark from parent craft.” Taretes growled with fury and slammed his fists against the console.

     Sometime later, Quietus exploded into the emperor’s suite located in the middle of the ship. Their arrival was met with screams of terror coming from several females within the room. Having blinked into midair to avoid melding with the floor, the Revenants crashed down upon the soft, red carpet. They raised their weapons to the source of the high-pitched screams: the naked elshi upon the bed, clinging to each other and afraid for their lives.

     “What the fuck is this?” Dreth asked. “Did we blink into the Voulgenathi’s brothel?”

     “Look away, boys,” Aran told the males. “Don’t let these elsheem turn you on.”

     “Ha!” Itagoreth shouted. “You kidding me? Being turned on by this elsheem filth?”

     “I’m sure that queen,” Jade stated, “Illeiri I think was her name, would resent that statement.”

     “Do I know her enough to care?” Itagoreth snapped.

     Svalti told them, “Cut the chatter. Round them up and search for the ecksivar sample.”

     Apparently, the room still had power because lights and gravitics were operational. After conducting a thorough, ten-minute search and scan, Quietus concluded that the suite was not actually a part of the ship but was instead its own separate vehicle containing its own ODEC and hyperwarp unit.

     “Also, no emperor and no ecksivar,” Jade told Svalti.

     “Alright,” Svalti responded. “I think it’s time to make some noise. Aran, can I trust you to take care of these creatures?” The Revenant leader pointed to the row of naked elshi on their knees next to the wall—their hands on their heads.

     “Absolutely,” said Aran. She sat on the edge of the silky bed crushing under her Type-M’s weight, forced the golden veil surrounding it out of the way by tearing it, and directed her weapon at the helpless elshi who let out subtle squeals of fear. “Like so much meat,” Aran whispered to herself as she looked through her scope.

     “I’m opening the door,” Svalti announced, “so get ready.” Dreth and Jade took positions on either side of the double door with Vald and Jon behind them. Svalti touched his fingers to the console, and the luxurious double door slowly slid apart. Svalti was the first to step through. Two black armor-clad elsheem soldiers stood guard just beyond. Knowing that the elshi concubines were forbidden from leaving the suite, the guards quickly turned to look. Before they could react to the sight of a Republic Revenant, Svalti bashed the guard on his left with the stock of his driver while Jade shot the guard on Svalti’s right. Further down the corridors, masculine shouts echoed followed shortly by the sound of alarms.

     “Come out here and start shooting!” Svalti commanded. “Let’s draw an army to us!” The rest of Quietus, save Aran, stormed into the corridor and fired plasma charges down the corridor. Within moments, like disturbing an insect hive, elsheem began flooding toward their position, and the corridor became alight with bullets and plasma charges.

     “Prepare to board the Voulgenathi!” Kyora said to all of the Auroras assembled in the Kelsor’s hangar. The captured elsheem invaders sat in organized clusters behind them. The phantoms, including Kyora, activated their shrouding, disappearing from both sight and sensors of anyone not networked with Accellus. Kyora spoke again, saying, “The phantoms will take point. After we clear the way, we will signal for the rest of you to commence the assault.”

     Illeiri was unsure how to engage her shrouding at first, but after several seconds, she finally discovered the means. Kyora watched her without giving instructions and smiled when the elshi finally figured it out.

     “Phantoms,” Kyora commanded once more, “ascend and advance.” She, Illeiri, and the twenty-four phantoms lifted off from the hangar floor, drifted toward the lumionic airscreen and, letting their hands pierce it first, eased through until they were in the interstellar vacuum. This phantom vanguard quickly closed the one-hundred-meter gap with their gravitics. When they reached the damaged hull of the stricken Voulgenathi, the women and elshi positioned themselves—some standing and some kneeling—around the gaping hole created by the primary ODEC explosion triggered by the phasic torpedo. The hole itself was at least thirty meters wide. The walls and floors just beyond the outer hull were the most intact. The deeper in the phantoms peered, the worse the damage seemed. There were no lights and no atmosphere; however, the elsheem had positioned guards to stand idle in the vacuum and point their weapons toward the Kelsor’s hangar in anticipation of a boarding event. Kyora figured they were scouts, ready to feel out an attack and report it rather than repel it as twenty soldiers would never be enough to defend this wide of a hull breach from an onslaught of Auroras.

     “Illeiri,” Kyora said, “let me see you use those discs. I haven’t had the chance.”

     “Do you want me to kill them all?”

     “If you have any reservations….”

     “Reservations? They follow Taretes, a usurper and a murder. It would be my pleasure to kill them. I’d just rather not assume anything.”

     “I see. Yes. Light them up.”

     Illeiri nodded, grabbed one disc at a time from behind her back, and threw each of them into the hole. The discs remained invisible until they left the influence of her shrouding which really only extended a few centimeters from her body. As each disc departed her hand, they were engulfed by white plasma. Directing the discs with her celornathic mind and neural interface, she sliced three elsheem through the waist simultaneously. Since the soldiers kept themselves glued to the ship despite gravitics loss by the magnetic adhesion generated from their boots, the severed upper torsos of the cleaved soldiers drifted away from their legs. The Avenathi queen bisected three more elsheem as they panicked. A lone soldier opened fire on the discs as his brethren retreated into the ship. Remarkably, the soldier who stood his ground was able to destroy one of the discs before he was cleaved in the same way.

     Illeiri gasped when the disc darkened and its pieces flew off into the deep black. Her reaction was like the hunter who lost one of her prized hunting hounds to a wild beast. She quickly redirected the other two discs back to her.

     “Incredible,” Kyora told her. “I’m glad you’re on our side.”

     “I’m down to two discs,” Illeiri responded, upset.

     “Don’t worry. He got a lucky shot.” To the rest of her phantoms, Kyora said, “We’re advancing.” The Aurora leader lifted herself off the Voulgenathi’s warped surface and drifted down the hole. After placing her boots upon one of the deeper deck surfaces, she stood upright and kept watch while Illeiri and the phantoms made their decent. Of course, with gravitics, one can be normal to any surface with just a thought. The phantoms also used their gravitics to push away debris at close range without risking their limbs to do so. They stayed together, following one of the paths the elsheem took to escape Illeiri’s discs. As they glided through a corridor, the ship’s material appeared less warped and damaged, moving away from where the blast had occurred. Almost as soon as they reached untouched sections, the group encountered a sealed blast door that likely closed in response to the blast. Kyora approached the door’s console, activated it, and despite the Miri translation projected atop reality, she beckoned Illeiri to read the Avenathi readout as well.

     “It’s on backup power,” Illeiri explained. “We need authorization to open it.”

     “I’ll give us authorization, all right,” Kyora said as she knelt down and detached a wall panel below the console, letting it drift away in the weightlessness. She began working on the electronics, asking, “How many are behind this door?”

     “Our mass scanners are correct,” Illeiri assured her. “I can feel all thirty-seven.”

     “Good,” Kyora said, plugging a fabricated connector into a port that allowed her to directly interface with the door’s controls using her Accellus so long as she kept her hand on the connector. Seconds later, she overrode the door’s security. Still kneeling, she announced, “Get ready. This will attract their attention.” But before she opened the door, Virn spoke to her via their Q-comms link.

     “How long?”

     “Give us another sixty seconds,” Kyora told her.

     The shrouded Elestan opened the door, and as it slid away, an airscreen blocked the ship’s atmosphere from blowing out. The opening door alerted one of the nearby soldiers. He turned around to look through the open doorway—even stepped through right next to the kneeling Kyora—, but he could see none of the shrouded Federation Auroras. Kyora told her girls to back away. She detached the connector, recalled it, stood up slowly while fabricating a blade, and grabbed the soldier, stabbing the plasma-coated blade through his chest. She released his body into the void, floating past the waiting phantoms. Wasting no time, Kyora fabricated a concussion grenade and tossed it through the airscreen. The grenade’s blast briefly overpowered the airscreen, sending a stream of air from the ship through the corridor through which the phantoms could hear the faint sirens and shouting elsheem. Kyora and Illeiri entered first, followed by the phantoms. Inside, they moved from elsheem to elsheem, dispatching them with their pistols and blades.

     Once again standing amongst the carnage of combat’s aftermath, Kyora sent a Q-comms message to Virn saying, “You’re clear to proceed.”

     “We’re moving,” Virn responded. She, along with the other five-thousand able-bodied Auroras, rose and traversed the vacuum toward the Voulgenathi.

     The elsheems’ chain of command was broken. Despite the fact that most of the bridge officers were still alive, orders started coming from several lower ranking leaders—each with different objectives and motivations. Fearing a full-on mutiny, the bridge had actually closed itself off from the rest. The functional portions of the ship were slowly dying, and the dead portions were succumbing to the cold dark. Thirty-thousand elsheem faced a force six times smaller; however, these invading Federation Auroras surpassed them in technology, morale, and order. The Aurora force was cohesive; sticking together through the sporadic attacks from a shattering enemy. As pockets of elsheem surrendered, they were disarmed, forced to remove their armor, and corralled in one of the powered cargo bays that the Auroras had secured and emptied through the use of their Accellus’ gravitics. The highest value captives were loaded onto shuttles, ferried to the Kelsor, and placed into stasis. If not for the actions of Quietus of Hiracet, the Auroras would have faced much greater resistance. The Revenants held onto the emperor’s suite, turning it into an enclave of death that the elsheem could not regain. Using Illeiri’s bioomnimic senses, the phantom group moved quietly through the ship, swiftly dispatching any enemies in their path. Illeiri tracked the black omnium toward the stern, and when the group reached an unpowered hangar bay, Illeiri said “It’s here.”

     The dark hangar—filled with atmosphere but lacking gravitics—was occupied by over five-hundred soldiers who seemed to be standing guard. A few of the elsheem around the periphery thought they had detected the phantoms’ gravitics, but just as they went to investigate, the phantoms used their gravitics to float toward the ceiling, making them less visible to gravimetric sensors. Once gently gripping the ceiling, the phantoms lobbed grenades down (or up from the phantoms’ perspective in the null gravity environment) toward the elsheem soldiers, blasting them across the mostly-empty hangar. With the soldiers in disarray, the phantoms readjusted their gravitics to plant themselves firmly on the ceiling, raised their pistols, and fired upon the elsheem across from them. They stayed in perpetual motion so that the elsheem were unable to trace the phantoms’ shots back to their sources and strike them. Illeiri guided her two plasma-coated discs around the hangar, cautious not to let another be destroyed as she struck down vulnerable targets. Eventually, Kyora jumped from the ceiling, landed on the floor, and lashed out with her plasma blades. When there were about fifty elsheem remaining, they threw their weapons to the floor, dropped to their knees, and raised their hands to their heads. Without lowering their shrouding, the rest of the phantoms returned to the floor.

     “We have about fifty more captives for you at our position,” Kyora told Virn through Q-comms.

     “We’re cleaning up the ship now. We’re making our way to you.”

     From out of the corner of the room came loud shouting in Avenathi. Illeiri understood its meaning directly, but for everyone else, it was translated to Miri by their Accellus: “Disgrace! Progeny of slime! Die!” Plasma bolts originating from the source of the shouting lit the room, burning through the suits and flesh of the surrendered elsheem.

     As the phantoms dodged the plasma fire, Illeiri said “That’s where the black omnium is,” referring to the source of the shots. The remaining elsheem stood up and ran for an exit, but were gunned down before going far. The phantoms approached the source of the shots where they found an elsheem in black armor and a cloak with a raised plasma rifle standing outside a warp-capable shuttle. His hysterical laughter echoed through the dark bay.

     “Degenerates!” he shouted again in Avenathi. Illeiri could feel that the black omnium was within the shuttle. She also noticed that the shuttle was still locked into a set of docking clamps. The armored elshe—Illeiri identified him as Emperor Taretes—turned around and, keeping his weapon grasped in his right hand, climbed into the shuttle’s cockpit and unlocked the clamps using the shuttle’s power. Kyora crept in behind him, stole the rifle from his hand, and sliced his helmet’s communications system with her plasma blade. Startled and furious, Taretes barged out of the shuttle and onto the hangar deck.

     “Come out of the shadows, Federation!” Taretes yelled in Miri. Willing to comply, Illeiri stood before the elsheem emperor and removed her shrouding. Because of her white Federation Navy Accellus, she appeared to him as merely another Federation soldier. He lashed out at her; his fists flying, but the enshrouded phantoms standing around her held him back with their gravitics. Taretes growled with rage as Illeiri removed her helmet to reveal her elsheem facial anatomy. Taretes stopped, stared, and growled, “Syoness.”

     Smiling, she said, “That’s right” in Avenathi. “Your illegitimate reign is over.”

     “Sniveling princess,” Taretes barked back in Avenathi, “you should have joined your father long ago. This is a new age, House Syoness. The old nobility is dead.”

     “The old nobility,” Illeiri laughed. “Look at you, the self-proclaimed populist revolutionary! Tell me, what kind of populist lives a life of such luxury as you?” One of the phantoms summoned a lumigraph with a video feed from his suite courtesy of Jon’s camera drone. The video showed the naked elshi with the members of Quietus standing behind them with weapons ready. The lavish quarters formed their backdrop. “You are the new nobility; a usurper; a nobody from an insignificant family with no social standing who circumvents the Magisterial Assembly with violence to take the crown away from my father, the legitimate king of Avenath.”

     “You disrespectful child,” said Taretes. “You surely were raised by your bastard father.”

     “Pig,” Illeiri spat. “You’ll never be the man my father was.”

     “Your father was a bastard in every sense,” said Taretes. “It’s a wonder he was elected king in the first place.”

     “If you think yourself any better a man than he was,” Illeiri said, “you would honor yourself by accepting my challenge to duel in the magisterial tradition.”

     “I don’t have time for ceremonies.”

     “If you defy me, then you truly are a coward.”

     “Fine. I will play your game and prove to you that I am the true king of the elsheem.” Taretes removed his helmet, revealing his handsome, well-defined, hairless face and short blond hair.

     Illeiri’s naked discs dropped to the floor as the elshi reabsorbed her armor, bodysuit, and driver into her boots, leaving just a portion of the bodysuit over her breasts to function like a brassiere, and she fabricated a light jacket to conceal her arms and upper torso. She stepped out of her boots, leaving the rest of her skin bare. Her bracers were capable of giving her one-quarter-g of gravitational acceleration, allowing her to keep her feet on the cool floor.

     Taretes then detached his armor piece-by-piece until all that remained was his bodysuit and cloak—both insufficient to serve as armor unlike the more advanced Federation polyalloy bodysuit. He kept his boots on which only functioned as floor anchors. Illeiri stood two meters away from Taretes, facing him as she cleared her mind. The both of them raised their arms and lowered their centers of gravity in preparation for battle. Kyora noticed Illeiri’s red circle behind her neck glow brightly, almost burning white like a plasma engine.

     “Close?” Illeiri asked him to initiate combat. It was the closest word in Miri that the expression could be translated to.

     Taretes glared at her and said, “Close.” He dashed at her immediately, striking out with his left hand followed closely by his right. Illeiri deftly dodged both arms, moving her head between the flying fists. Subtle, glowing, red lines appeared across the elshi’s naked body as she dodged Taretes’ initial attack. She dropped her body beneath Taretes’ charge, careful to avoid his legs, and kicked out with her left knee aiming for his crotch. She missed; striking him in the abdomen instead. This knocked the wind out of the emperor, leaving him staggering for a moment. Illeiri readjusted her gravitics to carry her away from Taretes. As she floated above the floor, vibrant red lines grew from her bright avenovah and traveled down her right arm, causing her right palm to light up like a red warning signal. She generated a cocktail of combustibles from her palm, ignited the fuel-air mixture, and channeled the resulting blue flame toward Taretes using a kind of bioomnimically-generated lumionics. The flame turned yellow and orange as it approached him. Still gasping for air, he shielded his face with his arm.

     “Bitch!” he gasped through the fire. Illeiri placed her feet on the floor and stopped the flames. Taretes raised his head and balanced himself. Illeiri crouched, clasped both hands far in front of her body, closed her eyes, turned her face, and used her bioomnimics to generate a chemical reaction that triggered a blinding flash of light. This time, Taretes was shielding both eyes with both hands, and he was unable to stop Illeiri’s midair kick that knocked him on his back. Once on the ground, Illeiri positioned herself to sit atop his abdomen. She brought both hands up to his head, ignited both palms, and engulfed the elshe’s head in flames. Acting on instinct, he pushed her back, sending her flying a couple of meters where she landed on her back. With haste, Taretes got up, stood over her, and sent his left foot hurdling toward her abdomen. Before it landed, she rolled out of the way and shot more flames at him as she leapt to her feet.

     Taretes was now mad with fury. He charged Illeiri, tackling her and pinning her to the ground this time. Her naked torso was squeezed between his legs, and he threw three heavy punches at Illeiri’s face before she caught one of his fists and then the other. With his fists in her palms, she ignited her hands once more and burned the emperor’s fingers through his bodysuit and clothing. Howling in pain, Taretes loosened his hold on her, allowing her to slip her hips from beneath his body. Standing above him now, Illeiri released her grip and kicked him horizontally in the side of the head, causing him to fall prone. After slamming on his lumbar spine with her foot, she collapsed onto his back, grabbed his head in her hands and started incinerating his flesh. Kyora noticed Illeiri’s heightened breathing and the onset of an unnatural weariness, like a wave of lethargy. The red streaks across her body were less intense than they had been at the beginning of the battle. Taretes screeched as his hair was scorched and his skin melted, but judging by Illeiri’s body language, she, too, was in serious pain.

     “I surrender!” Taretes yelled in Avenathi. Illeiri could not understand him the first time through her own intense pain. “I surrender! I surrender! Mercy!” Illeiri finally registered his pleas and stopped desecrating his once perfect face. Still lying prone, Taretes covered the smoldering sides of his head with his burnt hands. Through sobs, Taretes said “Let me live and anything I have is yours!”

     “The black omnium?” Illeiri asked as she panted.

     “Yours!”

     “Avenath?”

     “Yours! Just spare me!”

     “I won’t kill you,” Illeiri reassured him as she tried to stand up, still panting. “To be honest, I’ve wanted to kill you for some time, but eventually I realized that you wouldn’t deserve the death I could give you. The way you behave now reinforces that realization. You’re a coward.” Taretes made no sound. Midway through her rise from Taretes’ back, Illeiri lost consciousness and collapsed atop his body. Kyora and the phantoms quickly placed them both in stasis and relocated them to the Kelsor.

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