For the repatriated prisoners of war, adjusting to post-Awakening life was proving strange. Some found it easy; they had witnessed first hand the superior quality of human tactics. Others had buried themselves deep in the traditional interpretation of their faith, and when faced with a society that had moved abruptly and sharply away from that, they struggled to identify with what they found.
One such individual was Teklerat. He had publicly denounced the new Council and their ways as blasphemous. Seluban and Acklaran had corrupted the noble warrior ways of the Chon’ith, and Markaret had sold her beliefs to remain in power. A small yet passionate band of followers gathered around him in the weeks since the Battle of Oanareth, as he set up camp on the fringes of the Empire, away from either Cadj or human space.
“Those who still believe, those of brave and pure heart and soul, I say to you that the heretics who have destroyed us will be purged, and we will know our true selves again!” His message filtered through the Empire, often stopped and blunted, but it reached far and wide nonetheless.
It was a message countered easily enough, with the Council responding by issuing a very clear decree – as long as they didn’t interfere with the rights and freedoms of other Chon’ith, and as long as they didn’t violate the Words, every Chon’ith was free to worship the Makers in their own way. It wasn’t a well-received decree among Teklerat and his group. “Just one more means of eroding our beliefs and values.” Had been Teklerat’s reply.
The system his forces now called home was a sparse one. A pair of red dwarf stars orbited each other at a distance just under the distance of Mercury from the Sun, and as a result their natural flare activity was exaggerated, and their magnetic fields entangled, their solar winds smashing into each other. Two AUs out, a barren rocky world, irradiated a long time ago, floated around the stars, the sole planet of the system. Fourteen battleships, with nine battlecruisers for company, four heavy cruisers and five light cruisers, made up what Teklerat and his closest allies called The Army of Faith. A base on the planet had been established, a group of prefabricated domes, complete with hydroponic bays to allow sustainability. It wasn’t much, but for the Army of Faith, it was enough. Their unyielding strict faith in the true ways of the Makers would sustain them.
It was a belief that sustained them, right up until the Imperial fleet arrived.
“If you are prepared, at the very least, to avoid interfering with the affairs of the Empire, we are prepared to allow you your freedom to worship as you please.” Ike’reth said from the command deck of Reckoning.
Teklerat’s angry face glared at him from the monitor. “You would allow it? Such arrogance! We will not allow you to disrespect the Makers and spit upon the Words!“
“I’m not going to go back over this Teklerat. You have the evidence of your own eyes, your own experiences, yet you reject them.” Ike’reth looked solemnly at the view screen. “Would you have us all die, mated to a way of battle you have seen fail us, or would you have us live?”
“I would have us remove this stain you and your kind have blotted us with! You say you would leave us in peace, but there can be no peace, no alternative to the true ways!” Retorted Teklerat.
“The alternative is that we put an end to this, right now, in a manner that leaves you and your followers all dead. Is that your preference?”
“We are not afraid of the heretics and blasphemous traitors you call Chon’ith. We know how to fight, we have the Makers on our side! You think you can defeat the Army? We outnumber your fleet two to one!“
Ike’reth flashed an unpleasant smile. “You should have learned from your experience Teklerat. You will not receive another lesson.” The transmission was ended, and Ike’reth had his fleet hold at a distance of 60,000km, knowing exactly what would happen next.
Teklerat knew in his soul with absolute certainty that the circumstances of his capture by the humans had been because the Makers wished him to live. They had chosen him to be their sword, striking at the heart of the obscene festering heretical philosophy now espoused by his government. His fleet was in attack range, and they gleefully obeyed the order to fire. Sneering at the plot as Ike’reth’s forces continued to do the cowardly act of pulling away, he took great delight in knowing that would not save them.
His delight turned to shock as his missiles suddenly went dead, when they were just 30,000km from the heathen vessels. Every single warhead had failed, and he turned to his subordinates, demanding angrily to know why. They could offer him no answer, no solution, and all he could do was ready another salvo, as his fleet pushed on, gradually edging down the distance.
The second salvo suffered the same fate as the first. It was utterly impossible for every missile in two seperate volleys to suffer complete system failure, but that was what it appeared to look like. Teklerat pounded the console in front of him in frustration, and that frustration turned to a staggering disbelief as an enemy missile wave, far larger than their puny fleet could have produced, returned fire – but from either flank.
It wasn’t possible. There were no enemy ships on scanners, apart from the ones he was chasing, yet now two modest salvos were closing, and joining them was the first wave from Ike’reth’s fleet. Teklerat would never know, but Ike’reth’s battleships and battlecruisers had stashed weapon platforms into their cargo holds, and jettisoned them when they’d arrived in the system. Pre-programmed with the signatures of Teklerat’s forces, they rested thousands of kilometres either side of Ike’reth’s fleet as they’d sped by, and when Teklerat entered their range, they went live, firing off what they had.
To make matters worse, Teklerat’s ships were now vulnerable both aft and stern, having presented their broadsides, and therefore their thickest armour, to Ike’reth’s fleet, and the weapon platforms were only a few thousand kilometres either side of his forces, so missile flight time was only a few seconds. The platforms did not survive the energy release at such close range – the shock wave of radiation fried every internal system – but their missiles erupted in the faces and tails of Teklerat’s vessels, chewing apart engines and blasting open bows. With several of his ships now destroyed or badly damaged, Teklerat’s fleet was now sensitive to the missiles Ike’reth’s fleet had fired, which unleashed their own deadly force a minute after the weapon platforms had fulfilled their purpose.
The command deck of Teklerat’s ship became a centre of insanity. Where consoles had shorted out they had sent sparks shooting across the room, and cables and conduits had ruptured, sending hot, toxic fumes billowing everywhere. It was in that moment that a spark awoke in Teklerat himself, the idea that he had been wrong all along, but a second wave of Ike’reth’s missiles came surging in, finishing off the few remaining Army vessels that were trying to return fire, and in a few moments, Teklerat and all of the Army of Faith were converted into energy.
The data pad landed on Acklaran’s dark brown desk, sliding next to the model of the Parchment that he liked. He looked up at Obertan, who smiled slightly.
“The report from Supreme Chief Ike’reth, Councillor.” He offered.
“Thank you Superior Chief. I take it Ike’reth has been successful?”
“Yes Sir. The plan worked flawlessly. It never occured to Teklerat that we knew the command codes for his ships. We shut down his missile attacks one by one.” Obertan sighed. “It is… unfortunate, that he could not be brought back to the fold.”
Acklaran arched a brow. “You sound like you knew him.”
“I did Sir. We trained together, many years ago. He was… determined, focused, driven to serve the Empire and the Makers. His devotion never wavered, he just couldn’t change how he used that devotion.”
“Not everyone can. We must be vigilant Obertan, there will be others like him, good but misguided Chon’ith who would seek to undo all we have achieved.”
Obertan nodded. “I understand Sir.”
“You do not have address me as ‘sir’.” Acklaran smiled. “Until quite recently, you outranked me.”
“I… I just find it comfortable, Sir.” Obertan shrugged. “I am a military man, and I always will be.”
“I am sure your family appreciate your service.”
“I am mated to my work Sir.” Obertan shrugged again. “I never took a mate, there never was a time when I wasn’t learning how to be a soldier.”
“A pity, I am sure many a Chon’ith woman would admire a man in uniform, especially now you wear gold armour.” Acklaran grinned.
“My preferences lie elsewhere Sir.” Obertan replied. “And the right partner never presented himself, though as I said, I wasn’t particularly looking – and I fear I am now too old.”
“How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking such a personal question?”
“Thirty-six Sir.” Obertan replied.
“That is hardly old Superior Chief!”
Obertan looked deep in thought. “Perhaps not. Still, I remain committed to my work.”
“Take it from me, you do not wish to end up without someone to share your life with. It is… lonely.” Said Acklaran wistfully.
“We’ll see Sir. In the meantime, there is some further word from the Cadj front. The human scout ships have begun to return, and they appear to have located some of their biggest industrial sites. Command is looking into attack plans now.”
“Excellent news! I look forward to working with your people to develop any ideas you and your team have, but I will ensure you and Ike’reth take the lead on such projects. I trust we are looking into ways that do not involve extinction?” Acklaran asked.
“Of course Sir. We continue to believe such a distasteful option is far from needed.” Obertan replied, a little defensively.
“I didn’t mean to suggest doubt, I just…”
“No offence caused Sir.” Obertan’s tone softened. “Even before the Awakening, it would only have been a desperate last resort.”
“Let us hope they do not force our hand.” Said Acklaran pensively.
“The humans have raised the idea of ‘biological modification’.” Obertan said.
“They are considering altering the Cadj genetic code, so they do not breed remotely as quickly.” Obertan sniffed. “I am not sure how I feel about such a notion.”
Acklaran scooped up the data pad. “To alter them, to render them impure, is surely an affront to their very being? They would no longer be who they are… are the humans even capable of such a thing?”
“Technologically, we are uncertain, morally… it is hard to say. Their perceptions on so many things are still so….”
“Alien?” Acklaran smiled wanly. “I would like to believe they would not perform such insidious acts, but who can say? Would it preferable to wiping them all out? Again, I cannot say.”
“We might need to find answers to these questions Sir.” Obertan replied. “Perhaps soon.”
“We will. In the meantime, prepare your plans to disable their industrial sites, and any other targets of opportunity. Now we know we can do so without taking huge casualties, we should press our advantage to do as much damage as possible, and we might perhaps force them to surrender.”