Aleph forces in full retreat, all but one unit …
The young Myrmidon officer stared into the lifeless eyes of the Chandra agent. Sitting against the wall, her hand clasped on just one of several lethal wounds that had ripped her Lhost apart.
There was no emotion left on her dead face as she had told him everything she knew, everything that was worth telling.
His squad of man and woman stood silently around them. They already accepted what he would tell them. Without any further discussion they all would follow him, and not the rest of the retreating forces.
The nameless agent had now given her life twice for what she must have believed in. Protecting the human sphere, a goal more worth then her own life.
If she would have said nothing then her cube would have been taken by the Myrmidon squad and she would have lived again. Now she left him no choice but driving his sword through her neck. Destroying her to prevent not just information, but her very being to fall into the hands of their enemy.
He was dead as well. Turning his head south, to head back into the city block, overrun by the forces of the EI.
It did not matter who he once was.
For this last of his days, he would be Thyestes.
Within the dark but faintly-glowing, womb-like chambers of the EI’s Vizier personal Cloning Facility, there was definitely more activity than was typical for a smaller scaled recon mission. Usually, a few morat guards stood vigil, shasvastii walked in and out periodically and a one or other of the two Umbra overseers visited briefly to ensure that everything was as it should be.
Now, more morat guards were present, standing tall and silent in their heavy, dark armor, both overseers stood waiting and all the various support remotes were fully operational, tending to their artificially gestating charges rather than be in stasis themselves. Although not a unique occurrence, today was somewhat special.
Today, the Vizier himself would be paying them a personal visit and requiring their specialist services.
Even if the two Umbra had not felt the unmistakable approach of the Vizier in the EI’s shielded network, the first sign to them in advance would have been the heavy tread of multiple booted feet in the distance along the long windowless underground corridor that linked the forward operation bunker to the cloning facility. Soon, dark shapes moving could be seen through the gloom, and the jet black armor of the Vizier’s feared shadow guard special Sogarat detachment swept into the facility. Grimly silent as their name suggested, no-one in living memory had heard any of them speak, yet they did their job of protecting their master with fearsome efficiency and fanatical zeal.
In their midst and of equal height strode the Vizier, ruler of countless attacking detachments that had invaded the so called human sphere. A direct representative of the EI that was so far limited to a single world in the territory of this newest species, soon to be part of the united beauty that his master presented. At once, the two Umbra overseers knelt with their heads bent low in supplication and the morat guards already present clashed the butts of their cruel ceremonial halberd to the ground in salutation. Only the remotes did not pay some kind of obeisance to the leader of the EI’s forces, but he paid them little to no heed.
“Vizier, welcome once more to your rebirthing facility,” intoned the dark legate Dar’hakima, his face completely hidden by a windowless visor. By his side knelt the Kel’satra who, as the junior of the two, remained silent as per protocol. “We are absolutely ready for you, and thank you for the notice you gave us in advance of your august arrival.”
“I am pleased to be here once more,” the voice of the Vizier rasped mechanically in the semi-gloom, his pallid hair and glowing eyes the only part of him that could be seen clearly. While he looked hale enough to casual appearances, there was no doubt that his voice was changing, no longer smooth, operating so far away from the EI, and even the established facilities on Paradiso took its toll, even on a powerful being like him. “You may rise, and dismiss your guards. My own honor guard will suffice for this.”
Nodding, Dar’hakima rose – as did his colleague – and barked an order to the morats, dismissing the brutal beasts “You heard the Vizier! Leave this area and form a perimeter around it. No one must enter or leave until I give the word.”
With impressive synchronicity, the guards all clashed their weapons again and exited the cloning facility en masse, to take up guard positions outside. The Vizier’s shadow guards meanwhile took up the guard positions left behind by their smaller colleagues.
“My Vizier, we have the new generation of bodies ready for you, if you would like to inspect them, or anything else,” Dar’hakima added with unctuous concern. “You need but name what you desire.”
“What I desire is for the interval between birthing’s to be increasing, not decreasing,” the Vizier replied, his irritation obvious now. “It is clear to me that there is a more rapid rate of cellular damage in response to the EI’s will that flow through me, and more damage to DNA during replication than I would like. Telomeres are being lost at a rate that I would consider to be unacceptable. If this next body will be the same, then I will take a personal hand in the process of designing a replacement.”
“Vizier, believe me, we are working most assiduously on a solution to this,” Dar’hakima, in a fawning manner. “We just need a little more time…perhaps the span that this next body will give you?” He ushered the Vizier into a chamber where a row of identical stasis tubes each contained an identical sleeping unclad facsimile of the Vizier immersed in nutrient oxygenating solution. Behind the two men, Kel’satra prowled like a feral beast, his monofilament sword ever ready to leap to the defense of his leader.
The Vizier glanced perfunctorily at each cloned body in turn – they were all identical of course – but paid greater attention to the DNA analysis reports on the technical readouts. They were largely the same to a DNA level, but not absolutely so. From the moment of splicing there were minute differences even between clones and these were the factors that the Vizier was now considering, his background as a genetic scientist proving useful here. “It will have to be this one or that one,” he replied, pointing to two clones separated by a third. “Let me examine them” Saying this, he closed his eyes and immersed himself into the eddies and flow of the network that surrounded them all, diving deep into the sleeping consciousness of the two clones. Again, there might be minute differences between their psyches and abilities to withstand the immense strain of being the main focus of the constant flow of data from what humans would think to be an unimaginable distance away, across a whole galaxy.
“Both are good, but I will take the one on the left,” the Vizier said after a short pause, opening his moonstone like eyes once again. “I feel he is better suited to the situation now, but the other one might still be worth keeping for a later time.”
“As you will, Vizier,” Dar’hakima intoned sycophantically, before turning to the attending medical remotes and clapping his armored hands twice. Four remotes moved forward and began the process of removing the chosen clone from its gestational chamber, slowly draining the life-sustaining fluid and reversing the stasis that kept the clone deeply asleep. In the meantime, Dar’hakima accompanied the Vizier to the next room, in which there were two tilting tables for the exceedingly important patients to lie on.
The pneumarch of the Ur Hegemony slowly settled himself down on one table and it swung slowly to the horizontal position, as the droids carried the clone body in, wrapped in a white sheet. As they lay the clone down on the other table, the Vizier seemed to sigh, and the taut muscles of his body relaxed as if going into a sleep. But his face was where the major change could be seen; gone were the smooth skin and sharp angles of his alien features, replaced now by a heavily lined face that was visibly ageing by the second, the red skin turning to dust gray in a matter of moments. The burning white eyes seemed to sink deeper into the hollows of his more pronounced skull, the teeth and jawbones became more prominent and he seemed to become almost skeletal before their eyes. Even the Vizier’s previously impressive physical frame seemed to shrink and twist, as if ravaged by age – even though the body was only two years into its use and in normal circumstances would have been.
Long gone where the days where he was a well known scientist and philosopher for hundreds of years, a military leader for decades. Now he was down to mere years. The EI’s will burning his body hollow faster and faster the stronger the combined presence under his control grew in the human sphere.
Dar’hakima had seen this moment half a dozen times before, and he still was fascinated by the transfer of his master into a new body. But he could not afford to waste any thought with such distractions in any case, as his part to play in what would follow would be crucial, and his timing even more so.
“My Vizier, are you comfortable, and ready to commence?” Dar’hakima said, hovering solicitously next to the now wizened ancient that lay on the table next to him.
The Vizier, who by now looked well over a hundred years old, nodded with effort and spoke in a hoarse whisper, “Let us not waste any more time, we shall begin.”
“As you will, my Vizier” replied Dar’hakima, taking his place behind the head of the ancient ruler, so that the latter had an unobstructed view of his target. Kel’satra meanwhile took his position next to the still-sleeping clone, as if to stand guard, but his ever-vigilant eyes never left the Vizier’s face.
“Cloned body’s sedation is discontinued,” a remote anesthesiologist droned in an anodyne mechanical voice. “Heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, and temperature are within normal limits. EEG demonstrating burst-suppression with interruptions, and developing alpha wave patterns. No significant detected delta or theta activity.”
The Vizier nodded, closing his eyes and raising both clawed hands – now shriveled and writhen – up in the air and started a chant in a low voice, all he could manage. The words and even language were unknown to Dar’hakima, not knowing if they where just some old believes the Vizier might have kept from his time before being one of the most loyal servants of the EI, or really a part of the process he knew only what he needed to know about, but he was struck by an innate sense of unconscious familiarity, as if he had felt this almost arcane wordplay subliminally all his life, somewhere deep in the endless network of the EI. Perhaps he had.
Then it came: belaying the shockingly fragile physical state of his body, the Vizier’s power came raging forth like a dark torrent, as the dying body cast what should be its last, warping reality and weaving a new one with dexterity that Dar’hakima could only wonder at. A shadow, dark as the night, sprang from his rotting hands and streamed over to strike the cloned body, seeming to be absorbed within, the connection of the network between them being almost visible to the normal eye. Dar’hakima found himself beginning to be lost in admiration at the skill and power that the Vizier displayed, even in the final moments of this body’s life, and at the sheer, unadulterated power that burst from the Vizier with a dark ‘glare’ that made him squint in an effort to withstand its intoxicating depths. He had long learned that he should never underestimate the majesty of the Vizier’s abilities, no matter how he might appear to be physically. Only moments before, the Vizier could kill even the most powerful of enemies with an ease that was frightening, something that Dar’hakima had witnessed personally a number of times.
And it was why the timing of what Dar’hakima was tasked to do was absolutely crucial. He waited until the cloned body took a deeper breath than normal, and until his eyes started to twitch as if now in REM sleep and actively dreaming. He waited until the Vizier’s skin became almost translucent, as his spirit and had half-transited from the dying body to the youthful new one. He waited until he could detect the warming of the cloned body’s heart as it struggled to rise from its stupor.
He waited until not only his master but also the network needed protection the most. His protection.
Not knowing that someone else was waiting, just like him.
The old Vizier’s fading eyes suddenly sprang open and the glowing coals ignited once more, “You!” he gasped with such fury that would have been truly terrifying had it not been so impotent, feeling the invading present. Its vile stench visible in all its creations. Stopping the transfer now was not an option, he was committed and his life energies syphoned out of him inexorably as he was consumed by the growing awareness in his new frame.
Dar’hakima nodded to Kel’satra and that evidently pre-arranged, and relentlessly pre-rehearsed signal seemed to snap the umbra legate out of the trance he had fallen into in on seeing the depths of the Vizier’s true powers. A blue glimmering monofilament at the ready he was the first to fall.
The full weight of a the first Myrmidons heavy machine gun cutting the body of the umbra legate into pieces. Having him dance like a ragdoll for seconds while the rest of the squad burst into the chamber.
Then he was on top of them.
The fury of a lost battle, the desperation of a certain death, burning in his eyes.
There was a time when those that commanded him, as well the ones he lead into countless battles called him a hero. Even mentioning his name in the same sentence with warriors like Phoenix, Penthesilea, Patroclus or even Achilles.
But this did not count for anything anymore. His name was as lost as his cube, his soul. He was born of Aleph, had lived the life of a Myrmidon and would die by the name Thyestes, a name no one would remember him by.
The first swift maneuver on the Vizier’s new body, causing its head to roll away to the corner of the room and blood to gush from the gaping wound of the neck. The withered lips of Vizier’s old body opened in a scream of rage and transmitted pain that shattered all glass and ceramics in the vicinity and which burst the eardrums of the umbra Dar’hakima and the attacking Myrmidons at once, causing all him to stagger backwards in shock.
“Nooo, I am betrayed!” howled the Vizier in the grip of blinding fury.
Thyestes however, was not affected physically by the scream as the warrior that came to terms with his end days ago. Blood running from his ears he raised his sword again and spoke to the without being able to hear any of his own words, only a dull sound to him “On the contrary, I have a gift here from Aleph, who sends you their regards.” Saying this, he reversed his weapon high above his head and plunged it forcefully through the old Vizier’s chest and down into the heavy metal table below. The scream of metal on metal filling the room right as the blade pinned the dying body to it. Physically transfixed by the plasma blade, the Vizier shrieked again in agony, this time causing the medical remotes to short out and collapse in heaps, and eventually the walls buckled and warped – unable to withstand the torture of the network that was so much more then just data and information, almost being like the magic of old legends. Somewhere in the room, the Myrmidon squad as well as the remaining umbra rolled on the floor in mute anguish, hands clawing at skulls, blood spurting from shattered tympanic membranes. Neither the umbra nor the powerful Lhosts being able to withstand the torture that seeped from the shielded network.
“It is time to die, and I am honored to be the one that achieves the feat” Thyestes taunted his victim, with a voice that now dripped with malevolence and greed for blood.
The Vizier sagged back on the table, slipping up and down the blade. Unable to escape, and seemed for a moment to breathe his last, but then his eyes opened again with undimmed wrath as he seized Thyestes forearm in a vice-like grip. “Honor… is a fool’s prize” he hissed, blood-flecked spittle emanating from between his lips “Your ‘honor’ shall be no use to you dead…”
And with that, the Vizier released into the Myrmidon the fury of his remaining power at point blank range. Overloading the network sphere surrounding them both. Lightning coursed up the fiber muscle encased arm of the warrior, and from there across his whole body, causing it to spasm violently and uncontrollably. Thyestes had known no pain like this before, and he lost control of all motor functions, including even the ability to scream, as his body tissues steadily fried under the relentless network attack from the Vizier.
As the echoes of the viral network scream died away, the fallen Myrmidons picked themselves up from the floor, and regarded the figure of their true leader dancing spasmodically with agonized seizures. They all knew that they had come here to die. After the front had collapsed all PanOceania and Aleph forces had moved north, into the mountains. They had moved south.
Deeming it necessary to intervene, they ignored the pain and deafness that afflicted them and raised their weapons. But Dar’hakima was up as well his plasma rifle already spitting its deadly load, melting through flesh and armor alike, leaving only a unrecognizable heap as the remaining’s of the first Myrmidon. Leaving only the machine gunner and the youngest member of the strike team, throwing himself against the large umbra.
The plasma rifle taking its cruel toll once more from a Myrmidon, melting straight through his chest, but too late. The sword of the young warrior was already be driven through the helmet of the umbra. Standing like a statue for moments before both went to the ground in a last embrace.
There was no time for mourning or regret and the last remaining Myrmidon ripped his heavy machine gun up to end the life of the Vizier, aiming the weapon with murderous intent. But his charge was interrupted however by the arrival of two of the four shadow guards, who immediately assailed him with their not just ceremonial halberds. Initially dismissive of them as mere troopers, the Myrmidon soon came to realize that he had made a mistake in his estimation of their abilities. As a pair, they were able to not only survive a well placed salvo of his machine gun, but could turn the tables on him and drive him back rapidly, forcing him to make progressively more desperate manoeuvres to avoid being fatally injured using the machine gun to block their relentless strikes, making the weapon soon unusable for any other purpose but its current. Although he switched to his sword and a wild fighting style, the shadow guard matched his moves perfectly, even dodging his most skilled attacks with far more grace than their lumbering forms suggested.
Finally, he understood the true depths of his folly when one of them made a grabbing motion, ignoring the sword of the Myrmidon as well as the advantage the reach of his halberd gave him, with his fist followed by an elevation of his arm, causing the Myrmidon to rise into the air with a huge hand to be gripped around the throat and then slammed hard into the ground, stunned.
The Myrmidon barely escaped the wrath of the huge morat, rolling away rapidly from a blow that would have bisected his neck. Coming to his feet and breathing hard with the effort, he realised that he had backed himself into a corner. And then all of the sudden the second shadow guard was there. Standing still, allowing the warrior to realize that the huge halberd of the morat had penetrated armor and flesh alike moments ago. A heartbeat later and he was released and fell with wet thud to the floor.
Thyestes could by now barely see or hear anything at all; all was pain, all was fear and time seemed to stretch and distort in his fried mind. Why do I just not die already? He thought to himself as he spasmed like a puppet gone awry. The answer soon became obvious as the power of the Vizier’s attack faded and then ceased. Released from the paralyzing attack, Thyestes found his muscles could no longer hold him up and he collapsed to the floor. His sword no longer in his grip. The Vizier meanwhile, sagged back on the table again, seemingly drained of all energy by his efforts, his breathing coming now in long ragged, rasping gasps.
Rolling over painfully on the ground, Thyestes dimly regarded the two shadow guards that had taken out his team, comrades and friends with the help of the now dead umbra. Joined by two more.
He doubted that he would be in good enough physical condition to fight even one shadow guard that only waited for the command of their Master to execute him. But he knew that this was not about his chance of survival anyways, he had to finish the job and face them without having to worry about the Vizier recovering and intervening. His protesting muscles malfunctioned as he tried to stand, sending him tottering away into a wall.
Taking up the sword of his fallen friend, he pushed off the wall and managed to stand upright once more. The Vizier by now seemed dead to the world, but by examining him through the network, Thyestes knew better. If he did not finish the job now with the pneumarch incapacitated, it would be a catastrophic mistake. He raised his sword and advanced on the Vizier with it held high, before swinging it down to cleave him into two through the midsection. Before any of the shadow guards could even react.
The Vizier’s fiery eyes opened at the last moment and a hand rose, palm-first; the descending sword seemed to strike an invisible barrier which it could not pass, despite Thyestes putting all of his strength and weight behind it, gritting his teeth. The Vizier however extended his arm and managed to push the barrier outwards, forcing Thyestes back and as his broken body then levitated up and off the table and the sword that had pinned him to it, until he floated in a near-standing position by its foot. As he did so, his skin seemed to disintegrate somewhat, leaving fine cracks across his face, which lit up with glowing in a sick green light. The horrible sword-wound in his chest similarly glowed with this hue and even pulsed with the Vizier’s heartbeat. It was as if the body was destroyed, but was only being held together now by the pure force of the alien EI that powered him.
The barriers of the real world and the network long being cracked. The Myrmidon now a part of it, his body hacked and a puppet of his indomitable will.
Thyestes howled his frustration, but he could only maintain the pressure on the barrier with his blade, his own body failing him “Accept the inevitable!” he growled, trying to ignore his own situation “You are mortally wounded, and cannot prevail against me indefinitely.”
“I accepted the inevitable before you were even born. Your kind will soon be part of something bigger then you, and even the Master you follow can grasp. But that is nothing that will concern you anymore, because your existence will end here” the ancient Vizier snarled back in an almost bestial voice. “You will fall now, and I foresee that your Master will too, very soon. My only regret is that I will just have to kill you rather than torturing your artificial soul for a thousand years and more as you deserve.” As the Vizier continued to push outwards, the Myrmidon found himself sliding slowly but inexorably backwards across the floor towards the shadow guards, his armored boots grinding across the paving stones underfoot.
“Now face the full fury of the Evolved Intelligence in payment for your perfidious actions this day!” the Vizier bellowed, levitating now to a position in the center of the room and several feet in the air. He dropped the control he held over the Myrmidons body, and flung both arms out to the sides, his six clawed digits spread out like a swooping raptor’s talons.
A myriad arcs of lightning appeared not just from his hands but from his whole being, striking in all directions outwards, burning everything, blistering and warping even the metallic walls and not only charring the stone floor black, but splintering it too. Multiple writhing bolts hit Thyestes, sending him careering back into the far wall, pinned there by the relentless energy pouring from the Vizier. Nor did his attacks spare anyone in the room. The morats of the shadow guard alike were struck by crackling, snaking whips of blue electricity, punishing their failure to protect this facility and him, as he decided to finish the matter once and for all by slaying everyone in the vicinity indiscriminately in his wrath. The shadow guards held their arms up and attempted the deflect the energies coming from their master, but even they were thrown backwards and were struck by the lightning. All the equipment inside and just outside the room was shattered. In middle of the maelstrom the near-skeletal Vizier levitated in a state of ecstasy that one could only feel when the total power of the EI went through consumed flesh, his head thrown back and cackling in his now-elderly voice. It would take far more than a mere sword wound to end the rule of EI in the human sphere.
Thyestes last, miserable, thoughts before he succumbed to the void was of abject failure and pain. Now actively on fire, he let go of a small object. Letting it roll towards the Vizier with his final strength before burning up. Miraculously avoiding all the lightning arcs, the cylindrical metallic object landed on the floor and bounced a couple of times before rolling to halt near the Vizier, whose eyes widened as he recognized it for what it was – a thermal grenade which bleeped three times in inevitability.
The Vizier’s attempted in hasty panic to switch focus, allowing the storm to subside and mentally constructing a trying to let his mind race through the little metal object. Understanding his way of function, the connections of wires and mechanism. Quick as he was, it was not quick enough in the current situation. There was a blinding flash and the detonator exploded, shredding what remained of the Vizier’s body instantly and sending a conflagration outwards in all directions, torching everything remaining in the room to an utter crisp. A tormented and distorted scream could be heard echoing through the network as it was torn away from reality, and a second detonation – this time within the network itself – levelled the substantial building entirely, crushing the remaining shadow guards beneath hundreds of tonnes of masonry.
As the almost sorcerous like fire continued to rage through the ruins of the Vizier’s cloning facility, causing even the stones to burn and melt together, normality began to fall once more in the surrounding city block on Dawn. Stunned animals and birds started to call out once more and the natural lightning-punctuated darkness of the planet reasserted its territory after the unnatural flares of the colossal strife. Soon, it would be like nothing had ever happened.
- It all already started dire with a single Preta covering a lots of ground, thanks to its thirst of blood.
Taking out not only a Netrod, but in the same action the more important Zayin Rebot that was covering the right flank of the Steel Phalanx deployment zone.
Unable to even score a single hit against the fast alien creature it burst into pieces.
And with the Zayin gone, the Myrmidon warband was the next, perfect target for the Preta.
Not being placed especially bad the officer, as well as the hacker of the team had a firing line on the Preta, but in return the beast had the whole team in its sight.
Breaking up the team, so half of them could dodge did not do the Myrmidons any good and the two warriors, as well as the hacker died instantly. Only the officer survived and was able to take down the Preta with the help of the dying hacker.
- With the tremendous success of the single Preta the rest of the Combined Army moved forward to take up better positions.
Using the terrain and time they won to leave their own deployment zone and almost up to the middle, controlling most of the city block now.
- The Steel Phalanx strike team on the other hand was in serious trouble. With only a quarter of the Myrmidons left, a Netrod and the Zayin total reaction drone gone, not only their attack capabilities where reduced, but the command structure seriously crippled.
All they could do was to press forward. Use coordinated orders to get Achilles, his Myrmidon officer and the Lamed forward.
Allowing the leader of the badly hurt force to take position on one of the roofs while the remaining Myrmidon secured his back.
Killing one of the Daturazi, the last of the Preta and the Q- Drone with well aimed bursts from his Multi Rifle. Not quite turning the fate of this dire battle, but at least not just giving up.
- Scylla moving up right after the her leader, adding a extra layer of defense, but ultimately failing to mask herself and her Devabot’, leaving her in a rather difficult spot herself.
Still, the heavy flamers where in place.
- Unlike the forces of the AI, the slaves of the EI where not crippled by this counter attack, revealing a Sphinx they hold in hiding up until now.
With its high speed and stealth capabilities it moved down the weak defended flank, killing the Myrmidon officer with its flamer and spitfire without taking any serious damage at all, despite the hardened warrior making every second count and dishing out as much as he could before he went to the ground.
Using its flamethrowers once again the Sphinx had not trouble with taking down Scylla and her protecting robots, as well as the Lamedh drone. Leaving no one but Achilles standing.
- But even alone, with only one Netrod left, and having tasted blood already, Achilles was a force to recon with and not just the underdog.
Taking the Sphinx head on, blasting his way with armor piercing ammunition in a close combat that he simply dominated. Every other strike blowing through the beasts armor, dealing critical wounds and damage to the bio machine.
Bringing the giant of the EI down and leaving it in a mess of sickly green blood and hacked apart limbs behind him to bring himself into a position where he could defend himself against whatever they had left.
- After the devastating attack of the single Preta right at the beginning of the battle, and the almost as cruel success of the Sphinx, now the Umbra Samaritan who lead the small party of the EI was still forced to take on Achilles.
All his successes where not enough to break the neck of the Steel Phalanx just yet.
His spitfire being the most viable option to take out the hero of Aleph.
But once again this proofed to be harder then expected with the armor of Achilles soaking up tremendous amounts of damage while his multi rifle dished out dangerous shock ammunition, only being not able to match the fire rate of the spitfire.
This time however no amount of luck or skill could save him, hitting the ground after an almost ridicules amount of projectiles penetrating his armor and specially designed body.
In the end the Samaritan as well as Achilles had realized that it had to come down to this duel, and the better one took the victory for their Master, this time.