A/N: (Read full author's note at the end of the chapter)
Since the corresponding categories are not present on FF, I'll put this here.
This is a crossover of "Out of the Dark," a novel by David Weber, and my own Hundred Empires, adapted from the Ogame and Zorg Empires browser games.
Into the Void
"What do you make of this, Stephen?"
Stephen Buchevsky and two other humans stood around a console, it's readouts streaming data in an alien language, incomprehensible to a normal man, but the three were not confused in the slightest by it. At least, not by the language, but what it was saying, on the other hand...
They had learned from the neural educators. They had learned everything that the Hegemony ever knew...yet they did not know what was happening here.
It started only hours ago, relative time, but days to anyone outside their ship. They had received a comm message, and it wasn't from one of the other six dreadnoughts. It claimed to be coming from a human vessel following them from a distance. Sensor logs confirmed that there was indeed an object following them, but it was incredibly tiny, weighing almost nothing, and bounced around at nearly the speed of sound like a hyperactive fly.
It was where the messages were coming from, almost instantaneously replying each time Stephen had his people type them something. It did not take long for the three vampires to put two and two together.
A vessel could indeed appear like that from their perspective. After all, objects became heavier as you went faster, so the ship would be much lighter compared to you. But this ship was traveling at eight times the speed of light, the same speed as the dreadnought, without their time slowing down!
How was that possible? Even more impossible was that it claimed to be a human vessel! It was certainly possible that humanity could have advanced quite a bit in the three subjective years since the dreadnought left, but this was simply impossible.
But then came the video they sent. It had been compressed unbelievably to survive the immense stretching the signal underwent from traveling through time dilation, and even then it seemed to be on permanent fast forward. After slowing it down on the ship's computer, though, Stephen immediately recognized the speaker.
Vlad Drakulya, Prince of Wallachia, one-time Vlad the Impaler.
"I understand that this is all hard to believe," Vlad had said, speaking in Romanian. "Believe me, my Stephen, it was no easier for me. But the evidence they have is difficult to deny, impossible even."
"Listen to them," the video had said. "Give them at least that much. They are are not our people, but they are not our enemies either."
Stephen Buchevsky had lost everything to the Shongair. Technically speaking, he had even lost his life to them. His anger would not be abated until and unless the Shongair paid for what they had done to him, to his people, to his planet. They would pay, and would do so in blood.
However, he knew that whatever anger and hatred he felt was nothing compared to what Vlad held inside him, yet he was willing to stop his journey and join them. In fact, he sounded almost...weary. Had something happened? Had something else, something worse than even the Shongairi threat, come to Earth? There was only one way to find out.
The former Marine folded his midnight black arms across his massive chest.
"These people cannot be trusted...yet," he rumbled pensievely. "But Vlad...prepare to drop us into n-space."
Dropping out of h-space was no quick task. Systems that were passive during hyperspace flight had to be roused, others had to be properly calibrated to operate in normal space conditions, and the engines had to be stepped down from maximum h-speed.
Approximately twelve hours later, subjective time (four hours relative time), a half dozen vampires stood in the open hangar. The air had been siphoned away, and the men were unprotected, but it made no difference to them. They no longer had to breathe anyway.
Stephen and the others stood like stone statues, gazing intently at the vessel outside and the three small pinpricks approaching them.
The ship, Stephen had to admit, was formidable, to say the least. Gun turrets stood out on every surface he could see, and he was sure that hundreds of smaller ones were there as well, too small to see at this distance. Yet it also had a certain lethal beauty about it, too. The armor on its sides was surprisingly smooth for a warship, a far cry from the jagged, bumpy dreadnought that the vampires stood inside of.
The empty space around the "human" (Stephen still was not convinced that humans could have built this kind of thing yet) vessel seemed to almost glisten and swirl. Stephen could only guess what that was. Perhaps it was a form of shielding, like the Shongairi ship's own magnetic shields?
The pinpricks grew closer, and the men could easily see that they were anything but small. Each looked almost big enough to hold a platoon of soldiers, let alone a welcoming committee. Stephen began to tense, his Marine sense going wild, but he knew that there was nothing to fear. It was unlikely that these people had anything that could harm vapor, nor armor that could withstand what a vampire could do.
Curiously, though the engines flashed and glowed, there was no sound at all. Not that Stephen expected it. The hangar had no air in it, so there was nothing that could transfer sound vibrations.
What was I expecting, those Shongair drones? he chided himself, shivering as he remembered the bone rattling chill propagated by those alien UAVs. It produced some kind of vibration that existed halfway between felt and heard. Though he now had a full schematic of the vehicle in his head, he never did find out why it made that "noise."
The large transports were box-like from the back to just behind the cockpit. The cockpit itself was shaped like a downward-facing fighter's cockpit, though it had a much more blunt nose. That blunt "nose" had a turreted gatling gun of some sort attached to it. It reminded Stephen of the United States' Apache gunship, though much more advanced. It was limp looking, seeming to be offline. On either side of the ships were stubby, winglike objects, much too short to be meant for flight. However, judging from the small notches in them, they were meant for carrying weapons.
Two of the transports' six engines tilted downward as they turned around and landed on small, flat struts that extended from underneath, facing their backs to the six vampires.
For a moment, Stephen glanced back and forth, wondering what they were waiting for...then he remembered. They might need to breathe.
Though vampires did not need air to survive, they still required it to speak, so all he could do was tap one of his men on the shoulder and nod toward the transports. The Romanian man nodded and began typing on the small interface in front of him. After typing in the code, he pressed three symbols, and the hangar doors arched shut from all four sides of the opening. As they closed with a jarring vibration, air began to hiss into the chamber from unseen vents, and the area began to warm with the temperature controlled air.
As the room neared normal pressure, the backs of two of the transports snapped loose with a sharp snap-hiss and lowered slowly.
Stephen blinked several times at what he saw piling through the doorway. From each came a huge, hulking suit of armor, trundling down the door and stepping aside, each was easily eight feet in height and had massive tri-barreled guns attached to their right arms.
After them came two somewhat smaller troops. Their armor was heavy, but more humanoid in shape, without the unbelievably massive shoulders, arms, legs, and chests of the others. They carried large rifles, and set up with their positions on either side of the transport, standing with weapons trained on the vampires. Then came eight troops, four from each transport, that actually looked human. Their armor looked no thicker than a bulletproof vest, but covered their entire bodies and looked much stronger as well. They took up kneeling positions beside the other suits of armor.
Stephen watched them bemusedly, knowing that they couldn't hurt him with those weapons. But his relaxation caused him to miss that a large number of light troops had exited the middle transport.
Whoever these guys were, they weren't slouches when it came to deployment.
Another man walked down the ramp from the third transport. He wore only light armor, carried no weapon, held his hands behind his back, and held an air of absolute authority about him. His glowing, blue, T-shaped visor turned to regard the vampires, his expression hidden behind it. Slowly, almost lazily, he held up his palm at head height, and Stephen recognized it as a hand sign. All of the troops around him lowered their weapons, going into semi-relaxed stances, and the two walking tanks lowered their arms, the whine of their spinning guns dying down.
"You must be Stephen," the man said, obviously the commanding officer here. "It is good to meet you."
He spoke perfect English, though the voice seemed electronically tinged. A translator, perhaps?
"You'll have to forgive me for being cautious," the man continued, tilting his head slightly. "It is, after all, better safe than sorry."
"I agree," Buchevsky said dryly, folding his arms. "So you'll have to forgive me for asking you to remove your helmet."
The other man nodded, reaching to either side of his head. He twisted something on both sides, though Buchevsky couldn't see what, and the helmet began to fold back. It arched up and over his head, folding up on his back. He was human, that much was apparent. He was also an older man, evidenced by the light wrinkles around his face and neck. But there were also metallic looking wires that spiderwebbed parts of his face, most likely an interface for his armor.
"As you can see," he said. "We are all human here."
Though Stephen heard the man speaking perfect English, his mouth was not forming the words he was saying. It was definitely a translator forming them for him.
Buchevsky quirked an eyebrow, looking at the other armored troops. The older man took noticed and nodded towards them. As helmets folded back with metallic clinks, it became clear that he was telling the truth. Buchevsky's comrades relaxed visibly at that. The older man walked forward and offered his hand.
"High Admiral Joseph Acheiron," he said, pronouncing the "J" more like a "Y."
Buchevsky looked briefly at the man, who was shorter than him by a half-inch or so, despite the armor. Then he followed suit.
"Stephen Buchevsky, vampire," he rumbled, grasping the Admiral's hand.
Less than an hour later, Buchevsky felt like his head was spinning.
A short explanation convinced him that it would be much faster to ride on the Admiral's ship, the...what was it? Right, the Abydos Prophet. How they managed to travel so unbelievably fast was still beyond him. Even with a Hegemony-level education, their explanation for the "Stellar Drive" and its technology all sounded like technobabble to him. Even more mind boggling was the idea of a human civilization, from Earth, of all places, living in literally hundreds of interstellar nations? Intergalactic space travel? Hell, even the fact that their civilizations have been around for tens of thousands of years? He just could not wrap his mind around that, and probably never would.
From what the Admiral had said, Earth was their holy grail; their ancestral homeworld, lost for milennia. Aliens were anathema to them, warranting just short of extermination of almost any they found.
After what he had just gone through, Buchevsky just couldn't dredge up even an ounce of sympathy for alienkind. The images of Washington D.C. turned into a crater...his daughters...family...ex-wife; divorced or not, he still loved her. They all continued to haunt his memory. If the aliens in the "Akkadian" galaxy were anything like the Hegemony, he understood perfectly why they they would all but declare war on non-humans.
Yet, though they had no problem with letting the Shongair be blown all to hell, they weren't underway to the Shongairi worlds. Having already caught up with the other dreadnoughts, they could have easily done away with the worlds and returned to Earth in minutes...unless something else had come up.
That's what he had come to find out. The several dozen vampires tasked as the crew of the dreadnoughts stood or sat in a long room with an equally long table, with many chairs and small protuberances at the center line of the table. Admiral Acheiron and two soldiers sat nearby. Unlike during their first meeting, Acheiron wore a dark blue navy uniform, decorated with layers of medals on either side. Oddly, though, he still had those wires on his skin.
"Just to be clear," the Admiral began gravely. "Please be aware that none of you have been kept out of the loop." None of the vampires even stirred. Being a non-breather had a way of making you rather patient. "We have avoided any explanations until now so that we could ensure that everyone knows at one time, and that any misunderstandings are rectified."
Now he gestured a gloved hand to one of the vampires, a shorter one, though he had an aura of sheer fury, despite the fact that his demeanor was calm.
"The Shongair know that we are coming," Vlad Drakulya began grimly. "They knew even before we set out."
At this, Stephen sat ramrod straight, his eyes going wide. Knew? How could they know that?
He was not the only one affected by the news. Many of the others murmured in surprise and shock. Admiral Acheiron's frown deepened. He leaned his elbows on the table, putting his fingertips together in a pensive position, but he said nothing.
With a glance from the Prince of Wallachia, the talking died out.
"It was not something we expected to happen, of course," he continued. "But it occurred nonetheless. But as to why..."
Vlad paused for a moment, a dark shadow briefly crossing his face. Buchevsky could see the beginning of that dangerous glow in his eyes. For just a second, he saw nothing but Vlad the Impaler, Count Drakulya. But it only lasted a second. Then, he blinked and shook his head, and Stephen saw Mircea Basarab once more.
"It was my mistake," he said simply. No one said anything. The two breather soldiers shifted uncomfortably, but the Admiral remained as still as the vampires. "As we made our rounds, preparing for the h-jump, we failed to notice the sole survivor of our attack."
Vlad shook his head once more, but this time it was merely human frustration, not the darker fury inside him.
"We had thought them all dead," Vlad continued. "The atmosphere had been completely drained. But as there are certain...luxuries we no longer required, we- I that is- neglected to consider the possibility of pressure suits aboard."
Several individuals looked to each other. Buchevsky merely closed his eyes and lowered his head slowly. It was an honest mistake. He doubted that any of the vampires utterly avoided such mistakes, and Vlad had only recently "rediscovered" who he was. Nonetheless, though he did not know exactly how the Shongair knew of the attack so early, Stephen had a general idea of how it happened.
"We did not notice until weeks into the journey, relative time," Vlad was saying. "We had, of course, left the communications systems online, as all of you did, so that we could still speak to one another. I found out when I saw the lone Shongair, long dead of asphyxiation, laying on the ground beside the console."
"Pardon the interruption, Prince Vlad," an unearthly, disembodied voice said. It was an unsettling, rusty voice that caused almost everyone in the room to jump...everyone except the Admiral. It took Stephen a moment to remember that the ship had its own AI; Abydos. It was easy to forget about him until he started talking.
"...But I have been reviewing the information from one of the "neural educators" you provided," the voice continued, unperturbed. "I was under the impression that communication with objects outside of hyperspace is impossible, and I find it unlikely that a lone Shongair with control of only one of a dreadnought's systems could find a friendly vessel before his air ran out."
"You are right, Abydos," Vlad said after briefly composing himself. "He did not send it to a ship, however. In fact, I doubt that he even knew we were in h-space."
Now Vlad's expression darkened visibly.
"A Shongair vessel in h-space does not have the sheer accuracy required to communicate with an object at, for all intents and purposes, a standstill compared to it. However, it has the accuracy to reach an object directly in front of the ship."
"He just sent the communication like that?" Stephen blurted, despite himself. "Then what's the problem? The message won't get there for years!"
"The Hegemony has never tried sending a transmission like that," another vampire, one that used to be a part of Buchevsky's squad, said. "In n-space, it would travel at the speed of light, but it started out over eight times its normal traveling speed."
"Which is part of the reason we did not detect it at first," Vlad finished. "According to the log, the transmission reached its destination three standard months, relative time, before it was sent, which is six of our months in the past."
The room was deadly quiet.
"How is that possible?" the Admiral spoke up at last, his frown replaced by a quizzical expression.
The vampire shook his head. "I do not know. I only know that the Shongair have known for three years that we were coming. Had we continued our journey, they would almost certainly have blown all of us from the sky."
Buchevsky would have swallowed if he was still a breather. There are a lot of things vampires can survive; space, bullets, crashes...but being blown up without warning would have, without a doubt, sealed the deal for him, and everyone else.
"Then what do we do now?" another vampire spoke up, his accent identifying him as a Romanian.
"That much is simple," The Admiral said, his bright tone drawing all eyes to him.
He lowered his arms, revealing the slightest hint of a smile on his face.
"They will expect commandeered Shongairi dreadnoughts to arrive in a matter of years, not a fleet of far more advanced ships within months, weeks, or perhaps even days."
The vampires all looked to each other, unsure, then back at Acheiron.
"You did not think this was the only ship I brought with me now, did you?" He said smugly, though his expression quickly darkened. "My people have spent millennia searching for Earth, our home. I doubt anyone would begrudge you your world to keep, having spent so long there, but we will not stand by and watch it threatened and attacked without provocation. Though I am still awaiting word from my government, I have no doubt as to what they will say."
Admiral Acheiron rose. "I thank you for your time, gentlemen. It is approximately a twenty minute flight to Earth from here. If you would accompany me, I think you would wish to see how the situation has changed in the three years since your departure."
With that, he left them to digest the implications of what he had just said.
"Emperor Ranmanath, you had best have a very good reason for this."
The council room was abuzz with activity. Scholars and nation leaders had been called to an emergency meeting. Those off-world were represented by holographic images, transmitted across such staggering interstellar distances by the Ansible network that enveloped the entire Hegemony.
The Barthoni that had just spoken gave a withering glare in the direction of the holographic Shongair across from him.
It was two standard months since two shocks had struck the Hegemony. First was the discovery that the race that alarmed them far more than any in the past, the people of KU-197-20, known to the local sentients as "Earth," had advanced to a Level 2 civilization without blowing themselves to nuclear oblivion. Second, and far more ominous, was that the very same race had managed to defeat a Shongair colonization fleet, a fleet meant for the conquest of three worlds! The council had reprimanded the Shongair on the surface, but it was clearly only half-hearted. Inwardly, they were smugly satisfied that such a race would be out of their hair.
More than anything, the Barthoni scholar was not angry at Emperor Ranmanath for calling the meeting. He was angry because it meant that worse news was still to come, something that the whole council feared.
"Kalak vaan, Et'ha Ranmanath," a hulking, reptilian Cleptai said in his harsh language. No translator was needed for Scholar A'met'ne'ka'na. Being the easiest language to learn, his species' language had become the second language of nearly every race, and Scholars of the Council were required to learn it.
"Unfortunately, more "bad news" is exactly why I called this meeting, Scholar," The Shongair replied, his ears lowered ever-so-slightly in semi-respect.
"Our Ansible has just finished processing the report filed by the late Fleet Commander Thikair's ship," he said bluntly.
The room went very quiet.
""Ane" Thikair, Et'ha Ranmanath?" A'met'ne'ka'na whispered, the scales on his shoulders beginning to rise in alarm.
"That cannot be possible," the birdlike Kleptu scholar squawked. "Humans were only a level two civilization, they could not have-"
"But they did," Ranmanath interrupted, beginning to sound irritated. "Every last Shongair in that fleet is dead."
The massive, circular room erupted in chaos. Scholars from every race, whether present or holographic, yelled in alarm and disbelief, demanding, pleading, and threatening. Eventually the Cleptai scholar's booming, harsh voice called for order before nodding to the Emperor to continue.
His ears, by now, had begun to flatten out to the side, as though he was just now realizing the extreme severity of what he was saying.
"For now, I must make this brief, but expect a full report in your offices via ansible within a day-twelfth or so. I must prepare my Empire for what is coming."
The murmuring started again, but A'met'ne'ka'na cleared his throat once, and it quieted.
"We are, as of now, unaware of how it happened, but there is no mistake. Of the dreadnoughts we sent to Earth, at least six have been commandeered." Before the commotion could restart itself, he quickly added, "Again, we do not know, as of now, how the humans managed it. But we certainly know why, thanks to the psychological report at the tail end of the transmission."
Ranmanath's ears rose to their full height, highlighting how deadly serious the situation was.
"The humans are aggressive, very aggressive," He looked blandly at several herbivorous scholars. "That may sound...doubtable coming from a Shongair, but I assure you, our racial aggression is nothing compared to their's. I can promise you, as well, that they will not stop until each and every one of us is wiped from the face of the galaxy for the perceived affront, the unforgivable offense, they have taken."
The scholars' rumble of alarm became one of reluctant agreement.
"I do not need to remind you what a race like humanity can do with Hegemony technology after another sixteen standard years alone. I do not even wish to consider what would happen after a hundred!"
As the scholars whispered to each other, the Emperor became distracted by something off-screen. A voice could just barely be heard speaking to him. After a moment, he turned back toward the Council's gigantic chamber.
"I have just been informed that the processing of some of the report has been completed," His ears flattened into a wry smile. "Normally, I would hardly be this open with such information. But this threat, this human threat, far outweighs any contrary reason I could have for sharing this. I am sending the humans' psychological reports via Ansible now. The files should reach everyone's neural receptors any second..."
The whispering and murmuring stopped, before quickly ascending in volume. Again, A'met'ne'ka'na called for order, having to yell for a full ten minutes before everyone quieted, but even his voice seemed quivery, as he had also received the reports.
"I know what you must be thinking," Ranmanath continued in a carefully controlled tone. "And I agree. By our standards, even a sub-average human would be declared clinically and dangerously insane. And you can see from the information gathered how incredibly and uncontrollably vindictive and aggressive humans can be."
"This...cannot be...but if these reports are to be believed, none of our weapons could stand up to them as a Level 2 civilization!" the apelike Amranth representative shouted. "How can we stand against them as a Level 1!"
Several other Scholars nodded in agreement, but others attempted to shout him down, proposing ideas of every caliber; ranging from plausible to unlikely to downright stupid.
"There is a way," the Emperor said quietly. The Council quieted somewhat, if nothing else, so that they could find a way to contradict the Shongair's idea.
"Our report was quite detailed when it came to the humans' battle strategy, military doctrine, and much more," he explained. "Our best option against an enemy of such...unique psychology and sound doctrine...is to think like them."
Several Scholars glanced to each other and back to Ranmanath, their gazes demanding further explanation.
"For instance, humans appear to have a heavy combat vehicle called a "tank." As the report writers said earlier into the campaign, evidently before they realized just how dangerous humans are, merely putting explosive-reactive armor and a railgun on our own GEVs would make them far superior to human vehicles."
"Quite simply," he continued. "Our GEVs were simply ill-equipped to deal with other combat vehicles, our air force unprepared for air-to-air fighting, our reconnaissance drones unable to properly defend themselves, and our troops untrained for combat with a similarly equipped enemy. However, if we were to copy their designs with our much more advanced technology..."
Murmuring began anew, but this time it was relieved whispers, preliminary discussions of how each nation could alter their forces to combat this new threat.
"Emperor Ranmanath," the Barthoni Scholar said haltingly, not believing what was about to come out of his own mouth. "You bring a...good...argument to the table. But as for the rest of this information you have given us, we can sort that out for ourselves. Perhaps now would be a better time to finish our other orders of business."
"I realize how inadequate that must sound, after what the Emperor has told us," he added quickly, noting the rather sour looks he was attracting. "But, quite simply, if we do not keep our Hegemony running as we should, we need not worry about humanity. We will have collapsed long before they arrive..."
"Lord Emperor, sir?"
"Yes, what is it?"
"Pardon me for questioning you, but-"
"Yes, yes, get on with it."
"Is it wise to give them all of these designs? The rest of the Hegemony is as unprepared for humanity as we are. Surely it would be in our best interest, and for the interest of the Empire's plans, to-"
"To what, let the Hegemony fall to humanity? No, letting those barbarians wipe us all out would be very...counterproductive. We will let the Hegemony fight, we will let the humans fight, and we will fight alongside the Hegemony, and gain their trust. But when the dust clears, and the war weary nations prepare to retire..."
"...Then we strike, Lord Emperor?"
"Indeed. Then we strike."
A/N: 'Sup everybody!
As you may have noticed, my story writing has been crap lately. Precursors is yet another story added to the "dead" list, so now I've adopted a new strategy. From this point forward, I will only begin posting stories once I have written a chapter or two, to ensure that the story won't fall apart later on. This is actually why I haven't posted anything for Phantoms of the Present in a while. I actually have a chapter finished, but I would like to complete one or two more, for aforementioned reasons and so that I have a good buffer zone of chapters, in case of future delays (such as the ones that made me have only one chapter of Phantoms instead of three or more in this amount of time).
Until my next post, cya e'rebody. Read, Review, and Enjoy. ^^
PS: In case you haven't noticed, this is a crossover with my Hundred Empires (adapted from the Ogame and Zorg Empires browser games, thus why I can post this story on a fanfiction site). Since I don't have the luxury of posting the various bios and info for the Akkadian Empire here, you can (if you want) look for them on deviantART. I can even give you links. Or, you can also just wait, read, and figure it out as the story goes on. ;)