Into the Void

Chapter 3

Earth – Terran Empire Capital

Abydos Prophet, Flagship of Warfleet Abaddon/Command Center of Akkadian 53rd Collaboration Fleet

"All ships, full system check. Call in once finished. Abydos?"

"Impulse drive systems at 100% capacity. Combustion arrays two through eight at full burn. Stellar drive on standby. Sensors on standby to initiate preprogrammed scan routines."

"Excellent. Weapons?"

"Gauss decks A through F are now online, decks I through Z are on standby. Plasma decks C through F are online and scanning. All ion arrays are online. Ion Mortars-"

Admiral Acheiron pinched the bridge of his nose. Abydos halted, immediately realizing his mistake.

"My apologies, Admiral. Ion Mortars A and Z are now cycling down."

The Admiral really couldn't blame him. Abydos had done this for nearly a hundred years. Certain instincts were ingrained into him. Against an enemy like the Babylonians or Themurians, ion mortars would be convenient, though usually unnecessary. However, the Shongair had no way of defending against anything near that caliber; and this fleet was not on a mission of genocide.

"Admiral, Aurora has reported a point-seven-five centimeter deviation in her tracking systems."

"Again?" the Admiral sighed. The frigate Aurora Borealis had been having trouble for some time now. Hopefully it was just a glitch in her tracking systems. Whatever it was, the malfunction was minor. "Be sure to have them report for maintenance when we return."

"All other ships report no problems. We are ready, Admiral."

"Excellent, Abydos," The Admiral commended. Knowing what was coming, the Destroyer's relatively small bridge buzzed with activity as the command crew made the final preparations for a CEJ (Combat Entry Jump).

"All ships, jump on my mark. Five…four…three…two…"

North Carolina, United States of America

Earth, Terran Empire

Flashes appeared in Earth's night sky. They looked like stars winking in and right out of existence.

Of course, Buchevsky knew what they really were.

The former Marine stood alone on a hill. The forest, like everything else on Earth, was not left completely unscathed. Unnatural craters scarred the woods, and Buchevsky had tried his best to keep them out of his sight. Those scars were all too much like the very same scars in his heart.

He knew what those flashes meant. Retribution was on its way...and yet the vampire despaired.

He wanted to avenge all the wrongs committed against man. But Vlad's words rang true within him. Would Buchevsky become the monster that Vlad once was?

No, he would not...could not...become the Impaler. He was Stephen Buchevsky: a man...not a vampire.

"You are conflicted, my friend. No?" a heavily accented voice said from the side. "That is not surprising, if you consider our situation."

"The son of a preacher, now a vampire," Pieter continued with a chuckle.

Buchevsky couldn't help but give a small smile. Though that was not why the man was conflicted, it lifted his spirits somewhat. But the uncertainty returned.

"Pieter," he began, looking to his friend. "What am I supposed to make of this?"

The Russian vampire frowned. It was a complicated question. The Shongair...the Hegemony...Akkadians...Hundreds of interstellar empires...what was to be made of this? The answer was simple really; only a single, short phrase. It was a common phrase, one known by all peoples and in all languages...

"I do not know..."

Vengeance...oh how sweet a spice!

I cannot help but think of this famous line first spoken by Emperor Valdreth Caledus during the Second Babylon War, a good four hundred years before my time.

It is normal for me to feel anger. I am a warship. Angry is my duty.

However, my anger towards the hopelessly primitive Shongair has not abated as easily my commanding officer's wrath has. I am a machine. My memory is endless. No wrongdoing, particularly against humanity's ancient homeworld, is ever truly forgotten by me. As a whole, Humankind has searched for the near mythical Homeworld for nearly a hundred thousand years, beginning from the moment they fled the Founders all those millennia ago. In the time before the Founders, Earth had been an empire like no other, possessing technology that bordered on magic, even to "modern" Akkadian standards. The Earth Empire was once great...but then came the Cataclysm. The Shongair made the deadly mistake of creating a second, though much smaller scale, cataclysm.

The Founders. Such was a name driven into humanity's racial memory, and thus into their creations. For humans, it is a name to be feared: aliens who wished for nothing but to consume every sentient being in their path, and cared for nothing else.

For me, it is a name to be hated. I am Abydos. I am a Destroyer, pride of the Akkadian fleet, protector of Akeridai itself. I am the Abydos Prophet.

Should the Enemy ever return, they will find me ready to fight them.

Such was my oath, taken the moment I awakened within Akeridai's Gwehrworks shipyards. It is the private oath held by all artificial life within the Akkadian Empire. It is an oath that I shall carry till the day my core is destroyed.

Aboard my vessel, I feel thousands of data inputs as crew members from all along my eighty kilometer body do their various tasks. I give a small, invisible wince as a fuse explodes in Sub-Engine Bay 23-L5. It isn't an expression of pain, however. It is more of a sympathetic reaction for the massive, lumberjack-esque figure emerging from the fuse box in a cloud of black smoke.

"Not your brightest idea, Mog," I admonish as he gives a humongous cough.

"Ah, shuz it, bean-box," Mog Zarbog drawls in return, though he's not really angry at me.

I am a sentient being. As such, I make evaluations about the many subjects that I meet: opinions. When it comes to non-humans, this generally consists of either "dangerous-kill it with fire" to "harmless-ignore it." Of the humans I have known during my ninety-seven years of service, however, a certain few have become individuals that I trust – quite a feat, earning the trust of an eighty kilometer killing machine.

Mog is one of those few.

He is a citizen from Magmalon, a mostly inconspicuous world at the edge of the Typhonite Empire, one of Akeridai's vassals. The people there are hardy and intelligent, but their speech is minced. However, I have spent enough time around Zarbog to recognize most (though admittedly not all) of his mannerisms and slang.

I have also learned a hard lesson from him in my first few months of service with the Magmalonian. The "never judge a book by its cover" rule applies to people as well as enemies. Don't let his accent fool you, Mog is easily the smartest person serving aboard me – second to Admiral Acheiron, of course. In addition, he is the only man aboard that is qualified to repair Captain Ulrich's armor, a master of nearly every field of math, an expert all-around mechanic, and just brilliant in general, not to mention a pleasant person to know and about the only person who truly understands me: the way I think, the way I act, etc.

However much I wish to merely speak with him, I can waste no time on pleasantries. Even now, I near my destination, painted at the back of my mind and overlaid across a great, mental image of the "Milky Way" galaxy. I swiftly return to business.

"Sub-engineers have reported leaks in Fuel Bays 35-F3 and 92-E1 that require immediate attention, my auto-repair drones are unable to reach them," I grate to him. After a pause, I add, "The leaks have caused degradation in a railgun bank's QTS (Quantum Targetting Systems)."

"Ah, zoggit!" Mog declares with an obscure Magmalonian curse. "Wotz it gunna take ta fiks dat fing?"

"If I may, Mog. A bypass of the secondary QTS node would eliminate a need for immediate repairs that require your personal attention," I offer helpfully. "Full repairs can be delayed until our first landing operation is complete."

Mog thought carefully, stroking his beard absentmindedly with an omni-wrench.

"Nah, iz n'good, 'Beedose," Mog answered. "Beedose" was his pronunciation of my name, Abydos. "Da fing's bin bypasz'd twice. If'n I do it ag'in, da whole fing'll burst at da jointz."

I leave my Chief Engineer to his own thoughts as he strolls to the nearest elevator, still deep in thought. Instead, responding to the sensor logs, which most of my mind was monitoring, I send my voice through the CO console on my bridge.

"Update, Admiral," I grate, much more businesslike than with Zarbog. "ETA at Shongairi-held system is approximately five minutes."

"Very good, Abydos," the Admiral answers in a crisp voice, not moving from the stance he had taken at the start of the flight. "I assume you know what to do?"

Indeed I do. Messages echo through my "true" ears, my subspace arrays, as my smaller brothers and sisters acknowledge their readiness for combat. I dutifully do the same before confirming it with Acheiron. Then I send a short message to all of them.

"Forward unto dawn!"

"Oorah!" comes the chorused reply.

We are here. Now, at last, it is time that we performed our charge.

Within zero point seven-five-eight seconds, I begin preliminary scans of the system. I am surprised by what I see.

By all rights, the Shongair should be unprepared for our attack. In terms of awareness, they were. The pitifully small, unshielded, lightly armored vessels in orbit around the planet were producing energy levels consistent with warships on standby.

But in terms of ability, I see a great change from the technology I saw on the Hegemony's "neural educators." In place of stupidly exposed sensor towers, I detect armored domes. The large bays on their sides appear wide enough to admit service craft and large fighters. Their weapons, too, are more spread out, not facing the front alone.

Perhaps (and I concede this only grudgingly) the Shongair are more industrious than I originally thought...not that it means anything, of course. Prepared or not, they have nothing that can hold a candle to Akeridai's Pride.

I hear a voice giving me approval for Standard Capitol Battle Procedure, but it is only barely registered. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a security circuit recognizes the Admiral's voice, but I am not concentrating on that fact.

With a flex of mechanical muscles, my great banks of gauss and plasma turrets turn towards the completely unprepared fleet. My targetting systems locate projected weak points on the five largest vessels in orbit within point-six-five seconds, and firing solutions are achieved in only an additional one point-four-three seconds.

I fire.

The destruction wrought in that first salvo astonishes even me. I have broken through the shields of mighty Babylonian battle carriers with great pleasure, devastated orbital fortresses with zeal, and caused entire fleets to disappear in a thermonuclear fireball, but never has it been so easy.

The first two dreadnoughts are struck with my plasma cannons, the shortest range anti-capitol weapons in my arsenal. Data streams through my sensors as I see the globules of superheated material pass through the vessel with so little resistance that their naturally unstable magnetic fields fail to collapse. I recalibrate the magnetic rails to compensate for the next salvo, but even so, the shots have done grievous damage. Holes have been blown through the entirety of the ships, including their command areas (though that was no accident on my part). Both dreadnoughts are out of action.

The other three dreadnoughts have begun to come to life. Their apparently disciplined crews and automated systems reacting with surprising speed to the sudden death of their brethren. I do not fire upon them. My gauss shells, slower than plasma shots, have yet to reach their targets.

My gauss cannons are a marvel of human engineering, and yet also a herald of the primitive past of my creators. They fly true as an arrow, rocket themselves forward as the first combustion missiles, and contain warheads that hearken back to the dawn of the atomic age.

I sense a deviation in the salvo's course; a magnetic field.

The Shongairi shields are far too weak to fully deflect hundred ton rounds moving at almost a third the speed of light, but I cannot allow them to move off course. It is my nature to give no room for error or accident. With another flex of my mind, the shells realign themselves and crash into their targets with the full force of a hundred Hiroshima bombs...and that was merely their kinetic impact.

An instant later, a dozen Thalio-uranium hybrid warheads ignite. It is overkill in the extreme. My sensors dull themselves briefly to avoid any annoying "glare" from the explosions. It is too far away to actually damage my sensors, but the effect is like sun glare on a human's I squint.

When the explosions fade, nothing is left of the ships but coalescing asteroids of white hot, molten metal. Their nearest escorts are knocked out by the EMP wave, rendered immobile, though I suspect only temporarily.

When my Battle Sense fades somewhat and I begin the next phase of my duty, shock begins to wash over my metal frame.

In only a handful of seconds, I have deprived the Shongair of their most powerful warships.

But the shock fades quickly as I focus on my new task, responding to the Admiral's orders. My hangar bay doors open of their own accord, triggered by operators, and hundreds of point-defense railguns emerge from the space between my various banks of munitions. Birdlike forms flock from the hangars – Tangent heavy fighters, piloted by human operators. I hold back and do not deploy the many flights of Ghost light fighters within me – being automated, the fighters are linked to me for general direction. Acheiron quirked his eyebrow at the command display, noticing that all Ghost ports still showed up green (in-hanger and not in the process of launching), but he said nothing. After more than forty years serving together, we learned to trust each other on certain issues, particularly small ones like this.

I quickly scan the multitude of smaller ships moving into position, bringing the massive barrels at their front to bear on me, correctly assuming that I am a far worse threat than the dozens of craft behind me. Aside from reflexively raising my outer shields, I pay them no mind.

In a moment, I have shared the data with all of my brethren even as their information reaches me. Each of us have the same results. That is good.

As I am, my brothers and sisters leave no room for error. With our data rendered redundant hundreds of times over, I am now certain of its accuracy.

I hear an order from the Admiral and immediately reply. In an instant, my Combustion drives ramp up to full burn. I go from a near standstill to full secondary speed in the time it takes a man to blink. Once my Impulse engines kick in, firing at one-fourth burn, I reach full battle speed – one-twelfth the speed of light.

I do not, however, aim for the enemy vessels. My concentration is focused entirely on shielding. The fleet can handle the enemy warships on their own.

With a dull clang from my vast hangars, several dozen massive, multi-engined ships exit. Each is large enough to carry a four-tank battle squadron or a full squad of troops.

"Devastators are away," I announce. Acheiron grunts in response before speaking.

"Abydos, begin bombardment pattern Beta," he ordered. After a short pause he adds, "Plasma and ion strikes only. I want as much of the infrastructure preserved as possible."

I grimace, my body translating the action as several repair cranes in my hangar curl unpleasantly, and my gauss cannons power down. As much as I wish to exact full retribution on the Shongair, I have been ordered not to.

The Admiral's order alone was enough for me to do it, but I also knew why he did not want any kinetic strikes.

Allocating the resources of an entire fleet to this galaxy was hard enough. Bringing in the necessary materials to construct a Jumpgate was a nightmare. Added to that was the extreme power output required to bring gates online and the mountain of red tape to cut and accommodations to make. As it stood, Akeridai could not efficiently aid Earth's reconstruction, and the Shongair industrial complexes were far from adequate. They were pressed as it was to produce structures that humans could use, let alone for a population far larger than the originally planned Shongairi colonists. Earth would need the resources that this planet produced.

It does not take me long to pinpoint the planet's vulnerable areas. They are relatively well protected, and I can already see the arcs of missile and laser fire intended to intercept the Devastator dropships. Several surprisingly high yield nuclear weapons impact my shields, dropping the outer layer by point-nine-two percent.

Those sites on the planet are struck moments later by a standard half-dozen-shot salvo of plasma fire and three five-second bursts of ion fire…and they fall silent. I do a double take in the form of several sensor dishes twitching two degrees to the left when another continent lights up with missile launches. But this surprise is not a wholly unpleasant one. The Shongair are not completely ignorant, it would seem. Nonetheless, the sites are destroyed a few moments later.

Now, after only a short exertion, my mainline weapons relax. The fleet has the Shongair in orbit routed, and no significant anti-orbital stations existed on the planet any longer. Though the Admiral is actively seeking reports, pouring over his command console, and barking orders left and right, I have but one job…one that I sincerely hate…

I sit…and I wait…

Orindiantal – Shongairi Empire

Devastators had earned their name.

Despite their size, the massive dropships were unarmed aside from two small defensive turrets. Their large, rotary engines were insanely powerful, and the engines of war within the vessels' holds were more powerful.

Dozens of magnetic fields were twisted across the sky in invisible helices, attempting in vain to deflect the incoming transports. The Devastators crashed right through them, the strain causing several ground-based generators to overload and meltdown.

Meanwhile, inside, Nabonidus Cherkov was tossed left and right, feeling like he was in a dryer and not a transport.

The soldier cracked his head against the side of the ship. Instead of striking his helmet, however, the metal wall struck a field of yellow that suddenly appeared, though it had been there the whole time, unseen.

He chided himself. Perhaps Chernovan transports had spoiled him. Chernovan Kodiaks preferred setting down outside contested areas instead of barging into them. The rides given by Devastators combined all the discomforts of drop pods with the discomforts of transport drops as well.

Cherkov was not Akkadian in the direct sense. He had been born and raised in the Chernovan Empire; the Flare system, Coronia City, to be specific. Like all the other soldiers in the transport with him, he was a Chernovan...and he had dedicated his life to the military.

He was in the numbers of the Chernovan Myrmidon legions, the best of the best. After various augmentations and grueling training regimens on Abyssus, a Myrmidon training world, he had fought battle after battle, war after war, in the name of Chernova and Akeridai. Were they holy wars? Not exactly.

It was not the heathen and heretic that he sought to eliminate, but the xeno and the alien.

To Chernovans, aliens have been a bane to humanity's existence since the dawn of the Earth Empire. The coming of the Founders proved only one thing: aliens could not be trusted, and deserved little more than to be tread underfoot.

Some called the Chernovans bigots, know-it-alls, and other unsavory names for this assumption. After all, no one knew what the Founders really were, who they were, or much else about them. However, their attack on Earth was merely another example of one simple fact, according to the Chernovans...

Where there's aliens, there's trouble.

Regardless of his personal opinion, however, Cherkov was under orders to preserve the alien planet. His chagrin was only minor, considering that the resources he would save could be used for Earth's reconstruction.

A full squad of Myrmidons had been requisitioned after Earth's discovery, and Chernova was eager to grant it. Humanity's home had finally been found. The potential of finding new, unspoiled Pre-Cataclysm technology was incredible.

Fast forward to the here and now.

Cherkov had been assigned to a Hoplon Captain; quite the honor for him. Together, they would form a super-heavy weapons support team, ready to assist wherever they were required.

Between a six hundred year old war veteran and a squad of the most powerful commandos in the Akkadian Empire, the Shongair didn't stand a chance.

With a thud, the Devastator dropped to the ground as its ramp opened wide. Five armored soldiers gathered at the door, toting various heavy weapons. Cherkov himself hoisted his massive Wallgun, which was almost as tall as him when set to stand on its barrel.

"Myrmidons!" he bellowed. "Forward!"

A/N: Wazzap e'rebody!

I hope you enjoy the story so far. Next, the conquest of the Shongair begins. :) Some feedback on Abydos' parts of the story in particular would be welcome. I'm trying to write his point of view in a similar style as the Bolos' points of view in the late Keith Laumer's Bolo series. Is it working.

As always, Read and Review. Peace!