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Chapter 1

Lt. Mordred Artaeus

405th Division, Ardrovian Army

Sedonia Prime

 

 

“Lieutenant, we’re five minutes out,” the pilot called over comms.

“Roger,” Lt. Mordred Artaeus replied, tightening his grip on his plasma rifle. He felt his hands grow sweaty within his gloves.

The sky in the distance burned a crimson hue as the two Ardrovian dropships made their approach to the colonial outpost on Sedonia Prime. With scarcely one million people, Sedonia Prime was the only inhabitable planet in the system and was relatively secluded from the rest of the Ardrovian Republic. The flight path of the dropships led them over a wide stretch of desert before the sands gave way to rocky hills that were dotted with trees and shrubs common to the arid region. On the horizon, dark clouds of smoke became ever more pronounced as they progressed closer to their final destination.

Mordred and his platoon of forty-two soldiers were spread comfortably between the two dropships, large troop carriers which sped at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Mordred’s stomach churned, partly due to the flying but mostly in anticipation of what they faced when they would land.

Just hours ago, he was awoken by the sirens in the barracks and the rough hand of his sergeant on his shoulder, shaking him awake. Men scrambled for their weapons and gear, and a lucky few were able to grab something to eat on their flight before loading up. Mordred was the last one on his transport; it had already slowly risen a few feet off the ground as he made his final strides towards it, grabbing the railing near the open door and jumping in with a little assistance from his chuckling men.

He had joined this garrison just a few weeks ago when he replaced the previous lieutenant who had received a promotion and wasted no time in leaving this rock. Mordred didn’t blame him. An officer assigned to the outer colonies such as Sedonia had little to gain from such a post. Standard operating procedure for Army officers seemed to be a two-year stint in the remote outer colonies to develop their leadership capabilities and harden them up a bit before transferring them into a more prestigious role closer to the Capital.

His men sat mostly in silence as they readied their weapons and gear. A few of the stragglers, including himself, had to adjust their armor and helmets which they had quickly put on in their haste to get to the dropships. Their armor, made of a surprisingly light metallic polymer, consisted of a vest that protected them from their neck to down to the waist; a pair of shoulder pauldrons covered most of their upper arm, all painted a dull tan. On each of their pauldrons, a blue badge with the griffon emblem identified their allegiance to the Ardrovian Republic as well as their division, brigade, battalion, and company. The rest of their uniform offered little protection besides some knee pads and elbow pads strapped over their desert camouflage patterned fatigues. He liked the camouflage pattern, even though it wasn’t exactly functional when optics and scanning equipment mitigate their usefulness; but he grew up watching the military parades on the Ardrovian home world and saw the magnificent, azure blue heavy armor of the Ardrovian Marine Corps. His eventual goal was to lead one of the heavy Marine platoons, but as a fresh officer out of the academy, he had to first succeed in the proving ground here on Sedonia Prime.

The dropships made their descent to their objective, a port city called Barrow Point. Mordred could see through the front cockpit window from his seat behind the pilots. Miles of smoke, fire, and debris were visible from their high position.

“Lieutenant, can you see that?” asked the pilot, pointing to an area ahead that Mordred couldn’t see from where he was sitting. He unbuckled himself and leaned into the cockpit, bracing himself on the pilot and co-pilots seats.

The landing zone was to be the city square, but numerous craters, likely from explosions, dotted the plaza, engulfing the area in thick, black smoke.

“Shit… what the hell happened?!” Mordred exclaimed. He had prepared himself for a disaster. In his short briefing with the garrison commander, Colonel Rhoneax, he was told that they received an emergency transmission from the Barrow Point watchmen. The transmission abruptly ended before any description of the situation could be given.

The dropships changed their course and landed 500 yards away into an open lot near the burnt-out remains of a warehouse. After a short leap to the ground, Mordred sprinted ahead of his men to a concrete structure for cover.

They split up into their squads and slowly made their way through the ruins of the town, carefully crossing streets and searching for threats. Buildings displayed the tell-tale signs of aerial bombardment. Corpses of the colony’s residents greeted them as they hurried through the streets; they were strewn about the pavement in burnt up pieces. Charred limbs and blackened rib cages were all that remained of some, while other bodies remained intact but with the large burnt-out fissures in their chests. Plasma rifles, he thought.

He looked back at his men. Behind the facemasks of their helmet, he could see their eyes taking in the death that surrounded them. Many of them had not dealt with so much as a riot, let alone anything resembling firefight, and here among the smoke and soot they could see and smell what could be their demise.

“Eyes up, men,” his sergeant barked, “unless you prefer to look like these folks. I myself like my current complexion just fine.” He looked around at the men nearby to give them a reassuring grin, and then looked at his lieutenant to give him a personal nod of encouragement. Mordred nodded back and shouldered his weapon. He gave a hand signal to his men, and they continued forward to their waypoint.

“Are you picking anything up on scanners?” he asked over comms to each of the squad leaders.

“Negative, sir,” each responded. The last one added, “Whoever did this either isn’t here, or….” An explosion ahead cut off his words.

They were almost to the town square where the governmental building stood tall amongst the nearby commercial businesses and apartments. These concrete and brick mortared buildings in a colony such as this would be their best hope for survivors… if there were any. In any case, they would find security footage from around the neighborhood in the City Hall where they could at least get answers.

The columns of smoke leading from the craters they had seen as they had flown in was now right above them. They halted, and Mordred turned on the heads-up display on his helmet. The floating visual in front of his eye quickly came into focus and his commanding officer appeared in the visual. “Lieutenant, what’s the situation on the ground?” Colonel Rhoneax asked from the now-distant garrison.

“Sir, we’ve made no contact,” Mordred responded with an unmistakable shakiness. “We couldn’t land in the town center due to visibility and potential… hazards.”

“I saw that before our drones were shot down. You were lucky your pilots didn’t try to get any closer; there’s hostile forces north of your position on the other side of the town square,” the colonel added with concern. “And based on what we experienced with the drones, you’re likely to be without comms or scanners as you get closer.”

The young lieutenant’s brow furrowed at that last piece of intelligence.

The colonel added, “Lieutenant, we have heavy Marines in route. Observe the enemy movements, but don’t engage unless necessary. We’ll try to get more eyes in the sky. Rhoneax out.” And with that, the visual of the colonel disappeared.

He took a deep breath, allowing his commanding officer’s words to sink in. He looked around at the burning buildings and vacant streets. He felt the sweat from his forehead drip down to his cheeks.

“Alright boys, we might be going in blind,” he said, turning to his men and giving each squad their orders. He would leave one squad behind to cover them, while the other three squads would enter the square. One of those squads would turn left at the square and the other two would head with him to the right in the direction of City Hall.

As they turned the corner and entered the square, he could feel the intense heat where the craters were still burning; the smoke now was a dark grey mist instead of the thick black column that they had encountered on the way in. Here the pavement was covered in soot and ash; their boots kicked it up into the air with each step.

Suddenly, the deep rumbling of engines could be heard above, reverberating through the empty square and streets with a violent roar. A black dropship floated two hundred feet off the ground in front of the entrance to their objective—the governmental building. The thrusters on each wing faced down, causing a massive upheaval of the ashes on the ground which swirled around Mordred and his squads like a sand storm. His glass masked helmet protected his nose, mouth, and eyes but did nothing for his visibility. The grey, swirling clouds around them masked the new arrival.

His scanners and optics, which were equipped with a “friend or foe” system, couldn’t pick up the target. He tried switching the imaging on his helmet, but the heat and air movement disrupted the thermal patterns. “Identify!” he yelled to his men, hoping someone might catch a visual.

But before any of his men responded, the storm of ash broke slightly, restoring just enough of his visibility to witness what came hovering down from the dropship.

Like a dark demon descending from the shadows of heaven, the tall, black, armor-clad figure landed in the cinder and smoke-covered town square. The face of his helm was a terrible, spectral visage; a prominent spike adorned the crown. Three more of the dark clad figures floated down, the sound of their heavy metallic armor rang loudly as they landed and stepped forward to join their leader. Weapons low but ready, they slowly moved towards Mordred and his Ardrovian troops.

Mordred steadied his men; their weapons were trained on the arrivals. His orders had been clear—do not engage. And by the looks of the armor and advanced weaponry coming towards him he knew his unit was outmatched. Their adversaries stopped in a line, weapons still low, waiting imperturbably in the violent storm of ash.

The standoff ended in a sudden rush of movement from the tall, governmental complex that comprised the City Hall. Eight more of the heavily armored troops in black filed out of the entrance and raced down the stairs of the cold, grey, concrete building. Following them were seven men and women in close pursuit. Fearing a kidnapping of survivors, Mordred and his men sprung up and began yelling and threatening the four stoic watchmen in front of them. The black-armored soldiers responded only by raising their weapons with a precise and synchronized movement towards their now bellicose opposition.

But to the surprise of the watching Ardrovian soldiers, the captured survivors willingly waited as the dropship descended low enough to allow the survivors to jump aboard one-by-one. Two of the armored soldiers jumped in as well, and the dropship ascended and soared towards the stars, making their escape.

The dust fell lightly around them like snow flurries as the air settled with the absence of the dropship thrusters. With the improved visibility they could see another dropship coming in for a landing, no doubt for the benefit of their rivals not fifty yards away.

All at once, their dark, metallic challengers turned and aimed their weapons across the square and began unleashing a barrage of fiery, explosive plasma. Plasma blasts from that direction then returned towards them; whatever they fired upon was now firing back. The dark figures tactically withdrew further away, utilizing the cover of debris.

Mordred had been temporarily frozen in the sudden action but then, to his relief, he saw the second source of plasma fire. In heavy suits of power armor painted in a brilliant blue, the colonial Marines had arrived. They stormed the town square, moving with haste towards the black-armored invaders while shooting their powerful plasma weaponry in mid-stride.

His men, emboldened by the arrival and actions of their ally Marines, began to fire as well. The Marines began to press closer to the enemy in an attempt to flank them. But the black armored enemies were a foe unlike anything a Marine was ever trained to encounter. As the Marines drew closer, one of the rival soldiers set off an EMP blast which illuminated the area close to them in a purple translucent hue for a split second.

Mordred’s helmet went haywire, his scanners and all of the electronic systems they used for communication and optics turned off. Even electronic attachments on his weapon were impaired. Slightly startled by the sudden loss of power in his own systems, his stomach turned when he saw what befell the Marines across the square.

The power-armor equipped Marines had completely frozen in place. Some of the Marines had even tumbled over mid-stride as their armors’ weight drove them down without the cybernetic systems to keep them standing; their arms were limp at their sides.

The foreboding black armor of their enemies seemed to be immune to the effects, although their movements were much slower. Seizing their opportunity, the enemy broke cover and walked towards the disabled Marines, furiously assailing them with rifle fire, landing precise shots directly into the facemasks where the Marine armor was weakest. With every shot came the terrible sound of plasma burning into metal, hissing as shot after shot penetrated further inside, reaching for the soft core of human flesh. The blue armor of the Marines lay strewn about like piles of scrap iron, spotted with black, charred cavities.

With their heavily armored threats removed, the dark figures turned towards Mordred and his men who, having joined their allies in the attack, now ceased firing as they took in the sight of their fallen Marine brethren. The Marines were not soft targets, but their adversaries had taken them out faster than any man would deem possible.

In an instant, a barrage of bright, light blue plasma cut down the men surrounding the young lieutenant. Mordred yelled for his men to grab cover, but most of his platoon had already been reduced to a gory heap of limbs, helmets, and armor. One of his men had thrown an EMP charge which flashed its violet hue, but it only slowed down their oncoming foes and jammed their own communications.

Mordred yelled at his men to take cover, making wild gestures with his arms to call them back towards the safety of the street from where they came. A white flash blinded him, and he felt a searing hot pain shoot up his arm and neck. He fell to ground, trying to catch himself with his left arm, but all that remained of it was a severed, charred stub. A moment passed as he made sense of what had happened, but quickly the tears and screams left his body as the blistering agony overwhelmed him.

Still in excruciating pain, he suddenly felt himself being dragged away; a couple men from his rear guard squad had grabbed him by the shoulder pauldrons of his armor and began to evacuate him from the slaughter. They rounded the corner of a building and retreated down the street. The rest of the only surviving squad provided cover as his men continued to pull him along to safety.

They were 80 feet from the corner where the plaza began, when one of the dark figures rounded the corner in pursuit. The armored figure stopped, raised his rifle, and shot one arcing blast towards them. The round exploded in the middle of the squad. The bright, azure blue flames from the scorching plasma vaporized flesh and bone in the immediate vicinity, leaving ruins of their light armor and helmets. Injured men crawled away on their stomachs, desperate to save themselves. Their young lieutenant laid still, his charred body devoid of life.

The dark figure lifted his rifle and opened fire, ripping apart the bodies of the men on the ground. He surveyed his work; and when he was satisfied that all signs of life had been extinguished, he walked off towards his waiting comrades in the plaza. The dust and ash began to dance once again as another black dropship made its approach to land. Their mission complete, each of the dark figures loaded inside, and the vessel ascended back towards the sky.

Chapter 2

Senator Marcus Augustus

Ardrovia Prime

Capital of the Ardrovian Republic

 

 

The morning light peaked over the horizon, bathing the capital city in its orange glow. Thousands of tall towers reached amongst the clouds, the sunlight reflecting off the steel and glass. If the splendor of the magnificent skyline was breathtaking in the morning, it was even more so at night when the buildings lit up in white lights, seemingly outnumbering the stars. The metropolis draped itself in blue light at night, illuminating the streets themselves in an azure hue. Bright blue spotlights rose up the length of many of the buildings in a very ostentatious fashion.

Marcus Augustus, a Senator representing the outlying system of Terra Viridis, took in the view as he traversed the bridge that stretched from the monorail station to the Senate building. High above the ground, the monorails whizzed throughout the city moving its morning passengers from their homes to their jobs throughout the city. This station was one of two that rose high off the ground next to the senate, bringing travelers to and from the massive granite complex that was comprised of cavernous halls, various adjoining office towers, and the immense Senate Chamber.

Having crossed the bridge, Marcus saw that a few of his fellow Senators had gathered near one of the many obelisks that lined the Grand Plaza, and he began walking towards them. The Grand Plaza was several acres in size and an opulent display of the wealth and power of the Republic. Marble statues of founders, heroes, and luminaries looked down from their high perches atop tall columns.

The plaza was more crowded than usual at this time. Tourist groups had already begun to congregate; more would come in the late morning and early afternoon. But more noticeable was the robust military presence, an unusual sight for the Capital City, let alone the Senate Building. Squads of patrolling Marines jogged past him, and others stood guard at the entrances and around the perimeter of the plaza.

“There’s our young ace,” one of Senators called out as Marcus approached their position near the obelisk. “Have you heard the news from Sedonia Prime?”

“Why else would I be here so early?” Marcus responded. The senators chuckled knowingly. “What’s the deal with the Marines? Are we afraid that raiders from the outer colonies are going to invade the city and steal our women?” More chuckles followed his comment. His facetiousness was well-known among their political faction.

“Our President feels the need to be pragmatic,” replied a humorless, thin-faced Senator named Octavian. “An attack on an outer colony is an attack on our entire realm,” he added condescendingly.

The other senators shifted uncomfortably. Octavian was an important senator, from an important family, from the most important city and planet in the Republic. As an elite of Ardrovia Prime, his personality reflected the highly pretentious and superficial culture to the utmost. His powder blue senate robes were adorned with a large necklace which was lined with sapphires and diamonds. He wore a large sapphire ring on each finger, a gaudy reminder of the means of his breeding.

“Well in that case, I do believe legislation against such murder and plunder is in order,” Marcus responded sarcastically. More sniggers came from the bystanders.

War is in order,” Octavian replied curtly. His dark eyes narrowed at Marcus. “It will be our duty to see to it that all resources are at the disposal of our commander-in-chief, that he may arise victorious.”

“Indeed,” Marcus conceded. He wasn’t about to debate a prominent member of his own political party this early in the morning. He ran his hand through his brown hair and yawned.

“I heard it was a terrorist attack,” added another Senator, a plump man named Laevius. “There were big explosions. One in the middle of the city’s main plaza and another in the administrative building.”

One of the other Senators, an older bearded man named Horus, noticed the migration of blue-robed senators heading towards the high staircase leading to the entrance of the Senate complex. He checked his flashy wristwatch in a very deliberative motion, so the others could get a good look at it. He then informed them that it was time to make their way inside.

They walked together towards the entrance and made their way up the stone steps. Marcus’ friend and fellow Senator, Hector, caught up to him. When the other senators were out of earshot, he leaned towards Marcus and quietly said, “You really should be careful talking to Octavian that way. His family—”

“—can go to hell,” Marcus interjected. “Maybe he can suit up and lead some Marines into combat. If they are expecting us to give that asshole President more power, they have another thing coming.”

“Easy, he’s a Scion, and so are we,” Hector reminded him, referring to the common sobriquet for their political party, the Social Reformists.

“Ah, yes.” Marcus rolled his eyes. “I’ll be sure to kiss the hem of his robes when I see him.”

“Don’t be like that,” said Hector, obviously agitated. “Just tow the party line, and you’ll climb high… like your father.”

“Thanks for the concern.” A nerve was struck with Marcus. Invoking his dad was not the way to win him over.

Hector glanced over at him a few times as they made their way up the stairs but remained silent.

They entered the first doors of the Senate complex, ahead of them was a long hall with tall ceilings. They passed quickly through the security line; retinal scanners quickly identified each man and his credentials. As they proceeded through the hall they could see the rotunda ahead, bustling with activity and noise.

An emergency session had been called, and the large round room echoed loudly as senators, dressed in blue robes, traded news and rumors as they trickled into the Senate Chamber. The Chamber was a massive round room with a domed ceiling. The senators sat in throne-like chairs behind ornate desks; positioned in a semi-circle, five rows deep, surrounding the dais and podium where the President would address them on this occasion.

Marcus took his seat in the back, reflecting his lack of seniority. At age 30, he was the youngest Senator currently serving; however, his paternal connections brought him covetous appointments to several committees and, more importantly, one of just seven seats on the Senate Diplomatic Commission. The latter was a prestigious appointment, recently vacated by his father, which oversaw foreign relations.

When learning of his rise to such a prominent role as a freshman Senator, the opposition party expressed their dismay of such blatant nepotism, but they ultimately conceded. Marcus had a feeling they relented under the assumption that he would quickly make amateur mistakes that they could capitalize on. As part of a political dynasty, his screw-ups would make excellent fodder.

However, all of his connections didn’t get him a closer seat. He thought it funny that he could pass by other members of his party for appointments, but damned if they wouldn’t give up their seats closer to the podium. He really didn’t mind though. He preferred sitting in the back anyway, catching up on latest episodes of his favorite television shows on his nanocomputer. He rarely paid attention to the prattling old men as they debated issues.

None of it mattered to him anyway. Even if he listened to the many speeches and the arguments for and against the myriad issues that were debated, it still wouldn’t matter. He was expected to vote a certain way… paid to vote a certain way. He may resent his father, but he certainly enjoyed the lucrative arrangement that was set in his lap. Money bought booze, fast cars, and a penthouse in the trendiest neighborhood in the capital; it was amazing how those things, in turn, brought the women as well.

The senators had finished filing in just as the President entered the chamber accompanied by a few bodyguards and staffers. He was met with exuberant applause from his party, the Social Reformist Union; they made up three-quarters of the room and were always very vocal in their support for President Florian. The senate members of the other party, the Fundamentalists, politely clapped a few times but then fell silent.

President Lucius Florian put his hands on the podium, enjoyed the applause for a few moments, and addressed the representatives. “Members of the Senate, as you well know, yesterday the fifth of January, a colony within our grand Republic was attacked at Sedonia Prime. The attack came without provocation, targeting unarmed citizens… citizens we have a duty to defend. As would be expected in such a heinous, cowardly attack, the perpetrators have not claimed responsibility.” Murmurings could be heard throughout the chamber at this news.

President Florian was imperturbable and continued, “To this end, when we uncover the identities of the individuals, government, or corporation responsible; we must stand as a united force for justice. Our answer must be unequivocal: we will not tolerate such acts of war.”

The room erupted in a standing ovation at this declaration. Marcus had to admit, the President could command a room. A member of the prestigious Florian family was expected to have an aptitude for oratory excellence.

The President raised a hand, asking for silence; the standing senators quickly obliged and settled back into their seats. He continued, “Our obligation is to ensure this does not happen again, and only by bringing about the end to those responsible will we accomplish this. Therefore, I will be requesting enhanced authority to bring about justice for our people. Within the next few days, I will outline a detailed plan with increased military powers and security measures. With your approval, we can make certain that our people are protected… that our Republic is protected and that it will forever remain the greatest nation in the galaxy!”

And with that, the chamber once again broke into raucous applause. Even the Fundamentalist minority stood and clapped, indicating their support.

Short and sweet, Marcus thought to himself as he stood from his chair and joined in unenthusiastically. Our leaders certainly never let a crisis go to waste.

 

*****

 

The Senate Diplomatic Commission convened in a large conference room that was elaborately decorated in a flamboyant display of patriotism. The azure blue flags of the Republic, emblazoned with a griffon, lined two walls of the room while a large video screen was mounted on the far wall. A large, polished wooden table at the center of the chamber was surrounded by seven black leather swiveling chairs. Marcus hopped into one, spinning around immaturely as the six other members of the Diplomatic Commission filed in.

After the President’s speech, the Diplomatic Commission was dismissed from the Senate Chamber just as dozens of other senators, mostly fellow Social Reformists, stood up to ask for the podium. He could only assume that their purpose was to fall over each other in support of what their party leader had said. For once he was glad to be on this committee; it was important enough that he could leave the shit show that was starting to develop in the chamber.

The seven-person commission was comprised of five Social Reformists, including himself and the chairman, a heavy-set bearded man in his fifties named Flavinus. The thin-faced Senator from the plaza, Octavian, and two other senators, Gaius and Carius, made up the balance of their party’s representatives.

The two Fundamentalist senators in the room were an older man named Alexander and an attractive woman in her early thirties named Alethea. It was plain to see that these two didn’t come from money; their simple robes, unadorned with neither gems nor gaudy jewelry, was enough to attest to that. But Marcus also knew that they attained their Senate position on their own volition; not as a result of nepotism and connections unlike himself and the rest of the “Scions” in the room.

For this he felt both admiration and pity. The Fundamentalists always came into meetings arguing strong, irrefutable positions. However, they could never win over the voting bloc of the five Social Reformists, and they would leave the meeting looking haggard and defeated. Their minority in the Senate resulted in a continuous minority in these sort of committees.

“Ah, gentlemen,” Flavinus said as entered the room with two men in Republic Navy dress blues. “… and lady, of course,” he added giving Alethea a sideways glance.

The door reopened and a tall, brown-haired man entered the room silently. His beady eyes scanned the room for a few seconds and then he found a seat near the back of the room, crossing his legs as he made himself comfortable. He was easily recognized as the Foreign Minister, a member of the Executive Cabinet and a cousin to the President. He often dropped into these meetings to confer with the Senate Diplomatic Committee.

Flavinus stood and gave him a courteous nod, and then turned to the Commission. “As you may have guessed, our President has appointed us with the task of using every diplomatic tool and connection we have to ascertain the identities of those who are responsible for this heinous act. I’ve invited Admiral Secundius of the Naval Intelligence Service and Rear Admiral Tullius of the 5th Fleet here to brief us on the situation.”

Admiral Secudius stepped towards the video screen and made various hand gestures to bring up some selected video and image files. “As you well know, yesterday a colony at Sedonia Prime fell under attack. Early news reports are saying it was terrorists, raiders, pirates… I believe I even heard one of the more dubious television channels claiming it was a rogue corporation. But we believe that none of those are accurate.” He paused, looking around the room, and took a deep breath. “We are unsure at this point, but almost all of our intelligence points to a far more sophisticated group… most likely a sovereign nation.”

Members of the Commission gave each other bewildered looks. All except Octavian, whose stoic face gave no indication that what he was hearing was news to him.

“What? Who… and why?” the chairman asked, clearly taken aback.

Marcus stifled a sneer. He would have thought the chairman would have been briefed before the meeting.

“Once again, we have no clear answer,” Admiral Secudius answered cautiously. “The fact that our planetary defenses picked nothing up on surveillance or scans is most troubling. What’s more is that there are no videos, even from our men on the ground or even civilians. We have yet to recover original footage from the governmental complex that they raided and destroyed, but the data from off-site servers were reviewed. It was apparent they used EMP or another form of jammer to take out communications within the complex, even jamming helmet video feeds from our Marines on the ground. Orbital satellites were destroyed, and planetary defense modules were jammed or disabled. So whoever did this has highly advanced stealth capabilities, even exceeding our own.”

“Vorzorn.” The word escaped Marcus’ mouth, leaving a chill in the air.

The grave look on each face in that room indicated the implications if it were true.

Admiral Secundius cleared his throat before answering, “Yes, that is, of course, one possibility. We also believe the Boyarkov or Tzu-Fang could have pulled this attack off from a logistical standpoint. However, the perpetrators were able to also completely wipe out two platoons that were responding to the attack from the closest garrison. Officials on the ground speculate that only Vorzorn commandos have the firepower to take on heavily armored Marines without taking any causalities. The attackers were elite operators. If it was the Vorzorn, it is very likely they were the Nachzehrers.”

The Nachzehrers. The assassins of entire armies. The cruel, bloody fist of the Vorzorn Empire.

Marcus was the first to speak, his voice slightly incredulous. “So, why would the Vorzorn send a black ops unit to a remote colony with no strategic importance, bomb the plaza and nearby buildings, slaughtering countless innocents in the process, and then enter a building… only to bomb that as well. I mean, couldn’t they have just done an orbital bombardment with a much, much bigger nuke?”

The other senators in room, save the unemotional Octavian, nodded in approval at his question. The two Navy officers looked at each other uncomfortably.

Once again, Admiral Secundius took a deep breath before continuing, “We believe they infiltrated that building to obtain classified property of the Ardrovian government.”

“Well? What did they take?” Chairman Flavinus asked impatiently.

Admiral Secudius hesitated and checked a document on his digital tablet. “While you all have clearance up to Top Secret, you are not authorized to know the full extent of our operations on Sedonia Prime. However, what I can tell you is that the building was a high-security prison processing center for that sector of space.”

“So, in other words a black site torture facility,” Marcus said grimly.

From his corner of the room, Octavian looked at him with a wry grin and nodded slowly. The naval officers shifted uncomfortably, while the rest of the senators gaped at what they were hearing.

“…call it what you will,” Admiral Secudius replied hesitantly. “We prefer to think of it as a detention facility where we gather human intelligence.”

Rear Admiral Tullius broke his silence, “We are unsure what their motive was. There were prisoners from various nationalities; the system lies just off the primary trade route back to Earth, near Vorzorn and Tozama controlled systems.” 

Gaius now spoke up, asking the question on everyone’s mind, “So, this could have been a rescue mission?”

Admiral Secudius gave an instinctual glance to Tullius before looking back at Gaius, “That or an assassination. We don’t know if they were there to rescue them or to silence them. Since they destroyed the complex, we will have to sift through the rubble to figure out who they took and who they left to die in the blast...” His words trailed off, his thoughts appeared to have turned to the men who were in the complex. Likely men under his command. He took a deep breath, regained his composure, and continued, “Marines recently boarded a vessel under suspicions of espionage. They arrested a crew of seven. They had no identification and refused all questioning. They were Vorzorn… no question there.”

“So you decided to torture them for answers?” Marcus asked incredulously.

“Threats to our Republic are taken very seriously,” Admiral Secundius replied matter-of-factly. “If they have answers of an impending attack, the people that you represent would expect us to extract that information. If they were innocent, they would have been jumping over themselves to explain who they were and why they were in our space.”

“The timing of the attack on Sedonia Prime was no coincidence,” Admiral Tullius concluded.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

T.S. Starkenberg lives in the Midwest with his wife and their vicious Chihuahua guard dog. During the day, he works at a financial firm where he analyzes geopolitical situations and global economics for inherent market risks. His hobbies are traveling, playing video games, and catching up on—and binging—the latest movies and television shows to hit Netflix/Hulu/Amazon.

Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
War is hell. As a human race, we have witnessed atrocities, murders, and genocides. Yet, to this day we often underestimate the evil that resides within the hearts of our fellow man. This book explores the spectrum of human nature—greed, ambition, vengeance, passion—unchanging within our species.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
This story has part of its roots in history, namely the First World War. An entanglement of alliances, crises, and deep-seeded resentments boiled up to a head and led to one of the most devastating wars in history (as well as setting the stage for a second act).
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
Science Fiction has always captivated me. I probably watched the original Star Wars trilogy at least fifty times as a kid. For me, sci-fi is all about the infinite possibilities when it comes to world building. I love creating futuristic societies—their governments, armies, and spacecraft.

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