All of these events were, of course, unknown to the trainees of Brother Martin. At that exact moment, they were busy trying to understand what Brother Cleo was talking about. The lectures this week were about the rescue of all sentient beings. As far as Alex could tell, over three millennia ago a giant war commonly referred to as ‘the Great War’ had taken place between the forces of the Overlord and the forces of the Master. It was a long and brutal war that went on for over a thousand years. In the end the Overlord sent his Commander to lead his forces against the Master directly. In a massive battle that lasted over one month, the home world of the enemy was decimated and set eternally ablaze. The Master was imprisoned deep within the bowels of the planet. After the last of his forces had left the Master’s domain, the commander activated the darkspace device. Thus darkspace was created in order to lock the Master and his dark creatures behind a veil of darkness from which they could not escape. All of that was perfectly understandable and somewhat reasonable as far as Alex was concerned. However, what came next was frankly unbelievable.
He was apparently expected to believe that seven days later the Commander flew out of darkspace aboard a ship that was greater than any other and without any wounds or signs of damage at all! This was simply unbelievable; no–one could survive in darkspace for thirty minutes, much less seven days. Looking up he glanced over at Sierra who just rolled her eyes at what was being taught. From directly behind him, he could hear a small snicker from Benjamin; apparently he was not the only one who found this unbelievable.
Brother Cleo looked over at his student, saying, “Do you find something amusing, Trainee Benjamin?”
To his credit, Benjamin did not get flustered or nervous but responded very simply, “Well, believing in the Overlord is all well and good. But believing that one person could not only create darkspace but also survive in darkspace long enough to get out is just beyond ridiculous.”
Brother Cleo stood there for a few minutes thinking and then responded with a question, “Why do you think that the account of the commander is ridiculous?”
“Well,” said Benjamin, “We can explain the existence of darkspace without having to fall back on ancient myths and stories. After all, as the new universes came into being, the suns of the older ones died out, thus creating what we now call darkspace. Also we know that no–one can survive darkspace.”
Brother Cleo smiled and asked, “Well, then, where did all the new universes come from?”
To which Sierra suddenly spoke up, saying, “Well, that’s quite simple. The chemicals and raw materials were already there. As the suns of the older galaxies exploded, the heat and energy they sent out caused a chain reaction which caused a series of minor explosions and reactions which led to the creation of new suns and planets.”
Seeing that both Benjamin and Alex were nodding their heads in agreement with what Sierra said, he stood there silently before responding. After a short while, he said, “From what you have said, you believe that it is more logical to say the Overlord exists but had nothing, or close to nothing, to do with the existence of known space. Would that be correct?”
Looking up at him, all three trainees nodded their head in agreement which caused Brother Cleo to smile. “So tell me, what you think of this theory? The ancient texts are correct, and over three million years ago there was a giant war which plunged known space into eternal darkness. However, with that occurrence all those who had sided with the Overlord were now homeless because their worlds, as well as the worlds under the direct control of the Master, had been engulfed by darkspace. So surely someone powerful enough to create darkspace, and plunge millions of star systems into darkness, is also powerful enough to create new star systems for all those who sided with him. That would be a very valid explanation as to why everything is younger than darkspace. Furthermore, surely the order and complexity of everything backs up the idea of a designer or creator. Finally, it would also explain why there are none of the dark races that supported the Master in his war.”
At that Alex raised his hand and said, “Well, what about the Commander? Modern science has conclusively determined that no–one can survive in darkspace. And that has been proven. Any ship that enters never comes out again.”
Brother Cleo simply smiled and said, “There we hit upon the heart of the matter. You forget that the Commander is one with the Overlord. He is not human or Keenerite or any other known race. But rather he is his own being and is far more powerful than we can imagine. So it is not that farfetched to believe he could survive in darkspace. What makes you assume that the death spoken of in the ancient texts was only physical? While it is true that without proper shielding, we would die due to the extreme cold. That being said, ships get lost due to a total lack of navigational markers and guideposts. There is every reason to believe one can survive in darkspace given proper precautions are taken. The death spoken of could also refer to being killed by the slaves of the Master. Or even worse, being corrupted and turning to follow the Master, as some on our side of darkspace already do.” With that, Brother Cleo, smiled and ended the class, saying, “Well, I think you have plenty to think about over the weekend. We will continue this next week. Good luck in your soccer match tomorrow. I hear you have made it to championship match.” As they filed out he saw them smile at that, and could see Benjamin, Alex Steddard, Wulfric, and the other boys grouping together to discuss their strategy.
The Saturday of the championship match was a clear and beautiful day and as Wulfric, Alex Steddard, Benjamin, Michael, Alexander Boret, Sebastian and Christopher jogged onto the field they could feel the excitement in the air. After two and a half months of games this was it. Their opponents in this match were Brother Aldopheus team. The Furies were the obvious favorites as they had already beaten Aldopheus team twice before. Reaching the field they were surprised to see Sierra and the other girls standing on the sidelines in their PT gear. Walking over Michael asked, “What are you girls doing here? I thought you were having a girl’s day out?”
Sierra smiled, “We figured it would be fun to cheer you on. Besides it’s the championship, how could we not be here to support you?”
Joining them Alex smiled broadly, “Well it’s awesome to see you all here. It makes the day that much better.”
Seeing the smiles on the faces of everyone around her, Sierra could not help but smile back. She had been trying to fit in better with her classmates for months now, and still felt like an outsider. That was why she had suggested this idea to Rebecca and Bethany. They had agreed it was a good idea, and so for the last two weeks they had been getting ready for this game. She finally felt that she was beginning to fit in. As the team ran onto the field Rebecca tapped her on the shoulder, “Told you it was a good idea.” With that the game began.
It soon became apparent that the other team had been working hard to get ready for the match because they were all over the ball. The two Alex’s, and Sebastian, were barely able to keep it for more than a few seconds at a time, and spent most of it just watching as Wulfric and the others struggled to keep the ball out of the goal. Although the game was a full hour it soon became apparent who was going to win, as Brother Aldopheus team took shot after shot on the goal. Wulfric was the star of the team that day as he stopped every attempt they made.
Around the thirtieth minute though things just fell apart; Benjamin slide tackled an opponent and getting called on it began arguing with the referee. “What do you mean calling a foul? I didn’t even touch him, all I got was ball!” In-spite of the best efforts of Chris and Wulfric Benjamin would not back down and continued yelling at the referee. A short time later the ref pulled out a red card and evicted Benjamin for unsportsmanlike conduct. With the defense down a man, Wulfric found himself trying to block even more shots than before. The first shot sailed past him at the fortieth minute, and despite the best efforts of the offense to get an equalizing goal, the second shot sailed in unanswered five minutes later. After that the whole team seemed to give up, and in the next ten minutes gave up two more goals. At the final whistle Martin’s Furies left the field feeling stunned and dejected.
They had not lost a single game all season, so to lose like this was completely unexpected. Walking back to their dorms the mood of the group was rather downcast and dejected. Seeing that Rebecca whispered something into Sierra’s ear, who smiled briefly, and then called out, “Hey guys we’re going to treat you all to ice cream down at the Golden Lion. Whoever wants some meet us in the courtyard in fifteen minutes.” At the appointed time every member of the group was downstairs in the courtyard and they headed out for ice cream.
When the group came back that evening the mood was quite improved from that afternoon, causing Perrin, who never really made any attempt to associate or befriend anyone, to comment, “Looks like you guys had a good time.”
Finishing off the remnants of his ice cream cone Alex Boret smiled, “Yea free ice cream and beautiful company is always a recipe for a fun afternoon.” That comment caused Bethany to hit him in the back of the head in a lighthearted manner, and the whole group to laughed.
To their shock even Perrin smiled, “Well that’s good. But, don’t forget to finish your reports on the difference between Sieresan and Channinson theology.” Seeing the annoyed looks, and hearing the groans from several of the people in the cadre he smiled slightly and humming to himself walked off.
Rebecca frowned at the back of Perrin as he walked off, “Don’t worry guys. Why doesn’t everybody get their books and papers and we will all work on it together. And don’t forget, we still have five days before the paper is actually due.” At that everyone went to their rooms and a short while later they all sat around the lounge talking and working on theology papers together.
Ten days after the battle of the Gartax system, the surviving warships of the fourth battle group had departed for the Dieron capital. The crews were looking forward to some much needed shore leave, and the ships although space-worthy still needed a lot of repair work. The frigate Invincible had been left behind in order to hunt down any remaining pirates and keep the local populace happy. She was currently berthed and undergoing some minor repairs from damage sustained during a recent tangle with a pirate corvette. On the surface of the planet, Father Sevas, commander of the King’s Guard for the planet Calos II and surrounding regions, was arriving with the last of his guardsmen and some brothers from the outermost regions of the planet. He was very curious as to what was going on and why eight hundred brothers and guardsmen had been summoned to the main chapterhouse of Calos II. As soon as his men were settled in, he began asking his officers what they knew only to discover no one knew anything, and Father Michelson was nowhere to be found.
While Father Sevas was busily looking for information as to what was going on, Commander Tumak and his Prelates were finalizing the plans for the destruction of the White Falcons on Calos II and the final subjugation of the planet. “Prelate Marix, you and your marines are responsible for taking the docks and that frigate. However, it must be done quickly and quietly. At exactly eighteen hundred hours, when most of the civilian crew is in their quarters, the fleet will jump in-system and immediately begin jamming any outgoing communications. You must seize the frigate and its entire crew before they can leave the dock! Prelate Andreas, the moment the fleet is in-system, you will send a full division planet-side with orders to seize the main falcon compound and destroy them in one fell swoop.” Looking over his assembled Prelates, Tumak issued one final warning. “Gentlemen, I am sure you are fully aware of the penalty for failure. Rest assured, if this fails, it will not be my head resting in the corridor of the forsaken back on Helle but yours. I will deliver them personally.” With that warning, he dismissed his Prelates, and, sitting back in his chair in what had once been the private quarters of Earl Zierck, he waited for the battle to be joined.
It was eighteen hundred hours, and Captain Steddard was rather tired from overseeing the repairs to his ship. He was about to turn over the nightshift command to his second-in-command when suddenly every alarm on his command deck went off. He ordered the helmsman to bring up the view screen, and, on seeing what was out there, he ordered his second to beat to quarters. While the crew of the Invincible raced to their positions, he watched the screen with a sinking feeling. There had to be at least twenty-five warships out there. Six breaching pods and four shuttles were heading towards his ship and the docks. He knew the chances of getting cast off and out of the docks in time was very slim. Checking the mooring status he opened a link with the dock master and demanded to be cast off immediately, an order which the dock master acquiesced to. But as his men were all civilian workers, he told the captain it would still be several minutes. Just as the dockworkers had finished releasing the first of ten mooring lines, the breaching pods latched onto the side of the Invincible. Suddenly hundreds of red-garbed marines poured onto the decks of the frigate, engaging in fierce combat with the defenders. At the same time, the first of the shuttle craft unloaded its men. They promptly began killing those dockworkers or security personal who resisted and rounding up the rest as prisoners.
Meanwhile, on board the Invincible, the fighting continued to rage. Ballistic rounds from rifles and shotguns bounced off the hull or into the bodies of attacker and defender alike, and hundreds of marines and sailors from both sides lay dead. Very quickly the two sides’ closed and hand-to-hand combat became the order of the day as glistening vibrobayonets, short vibroswords, and daggers were pulled out. Soon the corridors of the warship rang to the sound of the cries of dying men, the war cries of those still fighting, and the sound of weapons striking metal, armor, and flesh. The defenders fought valiantly, but they had been caught unprepared and were being pushed steadily back toward the bridge. Once the first of the invaders reached the command decks, they were met by Captain Steddard with the surviving marines and sailors. Leading what was left of his crew in a headlong assault; they slammed into the attackers and quickly pushed them back. Unfortunately the sheer number of attackers was overwhelming, and, in spite of the gallantry of the defenders, they were slowly overcome. The last thing Captain Steddard remembered before being knocked unconscious was the leering face of an enemy marine who he slashed open from temple to throat. The entire battle took only forty-five minutes, and at the end, two hundred and four marines, sailors, and dockworkers lay dead or dying with another one hundred and fifty-seven captured. Prelate Marix had lost three hundred and twenty-two marines with another one hundred and four wounded. Although his losses had been rather high, he did not care. After all, there were always more willing slaves to fill the ranks of the Redband and he had fulfilled his mission which in the final tally was all that mattered.
At the same time the battle of the dock yards commenced, twenty-five shuttles carrying five thousand Redband infantrymen soared through the atmosphere of Calos II and headed unimpeded towards the chapterhouse. Ten minutes later, they were unloading infantry into the courtyards and walls of the chapterhouse, and a fierce firefight broke out. Seeing that his men were gravely outnumbered, Father Sevas ordered them to withdraw into the corridors of the main building. However, the thirty men stationed on the walls were unable to withdraw and so, making a last stand at the gate house, fired a full volley into the enemy ranks and charged into them, vibrobayonets gleaming in the setting sun. Ten minutes later, all thirty guardsmen lay dead surrounded by at least eighty-three of the enemy. That problem dealt with, they turned their attention to the main building. Charging in they were greeted by a full volley from the remaining one hundred and fifty defenders. Within five minutes, over three hundred Redband infantrymen lay dead or dying at the entrance of the main building.
The remaining infantry pulled back, and setting up a small darkmatter gun on the wall over the gate, fired it directly into the entry hall of the main building. Screams could be heard coming from inside. Seconds’ later one man came running outside, screaming and flailing as darkmatter burned him alive. It took the darkmatter five minutes to dissipate, after which the attackers moved into the entry hall. What they saw took them completely by surprise. Counting the one dead man outside, there could not be more than fifteen to twenty dead guardsmen, so where had the rest gone? Without warning, out of one of the side buildings burst the surviving soldiers. Weapons blazing they made as direct a line as possible for the motor pool on the far side of the chapterhouse courtyard. Chasing after them, the Redband infantry returned fire, and many guardsmen fell. In the end, only sixty-three White Falcons reached the motor pool and, clambering into whatever vehicles they could find, roared toward the main gate. Any attacker who got in their way was simply run over. As the makeshift convey reached the gates and crossed into the city, two attack shuttles lifted off and began pursuing them, plasma guns and autoguns blazing away. They pursued them all the way up to the Kelmar Woods which bordered the southern edge of the city before returning to the still-burning chapterhouse.
Upon reaching the forest, Father Sevas ordered all the surviving vehicles to check in. In all he had managed to break out with fifteen guardsmen and four brothers. He slammed the center console with his fist in frustration, causing the driver to look over in alarm. Out of the eight hundred men and women assembled in that chapterhouse, less than twenty had escaped. To make matters worse, they only had eight rifles with ammunition, and only three hundred rounds total. His own sword laid shattered back in the courtyard, and the rifle he had picked up off the ground had only eight rounds left. He was particularly worried about the families of the brothers and guardsmen scattered throughout the planet. He had a sinking feeling that whoever these attackers were, they would hunt down and kill anyone related to the Order, from the youngest child to the oldest man. As these thoughts rolled through Father Sevas’s mind, the remaining five vehicles rumbled on through the Kelmar Woods until they came to a clearing about twenty-five miles south of the capital city. On the eastern side of the clearing rose a giant cliff face. When Sevas punched a command into his wristcomp, a large door slid open to reveal a small, sleek ship. The vessel was jet black and resembled a dart that had been slightly flattened and widened out. At the back of the ship were four powerful engines that accounted for a full third of the ship’s size or length. It was in fact a smuggler’s craft that Sevas had ‘found’ four years ago and decided to keep. He had built this small bolt whole for it. Mostly they had used it for training guardsmen in space combat, but now it was their ticket off this planet.
The ship had no weapons, but it did have a stealth device which would enable them to slip undetected past any ships in orbit. Picking three men he knew had experience flying spacecraft, he ordered the rest of them to make themselves as comfortable and secure in the back as they could. He knew it would be an uncomfortable ride with so many people, but at least they were alive. Heading up to the flight deck with his crew, they strapped themselves in while the others found spaces in the back. Five minutes later, the ship blasted through the atmosphere, stealth device fully engaged, leaving the Calos system as quickly as possible. Through the view screen, Sevas could see at least twenty warships in orbit. Looking over towards the dockyards, he saw clear signs of battle and knew they had taken that too. He knew who these men were even though almost no one else in the Order would. He only wondered how they had grown powerful enough to have done what they just did.
Back on Calos II, Commander Tumak strode through the wreckage of what had once been the main chapterhouse, allowing himself a small smile. It was true that in the last two weeks he had lost almost half his command. But he had achieved the orders of the Dark Lords and with minimal bloodshed, at least on the planet’s side. His own men he did not worry about in the least. They were fodder to be used for the Masters purposes. As he was fond of reminding them, they were easy to replace. A couple of steps behind him, Father Michelson shuffled along, aghast at the carnage he could see. He had never intended to cause all this. He had only wanted to try and prevent bloodshed by working with these men. He thought all men were basically good and kind. He figured problems and arguments were the result of people being too stuck in their own worlds and unwilling to compromise. But this carnage was beyond anything he could imagine. The dead and desecrated bodies of his fellow brothers were strewn about everywhere, and the killing was still going on. He could hear it in the background as here and there an occasional survivor was found and usually killed slowly.
He shook his head and wondered how he could have been so wrong. After all, didn’t the ancient texts teach that if he just loved everyone and accepted them for who they were; then they would return the love and feelings of brotherhood because all people were a part of the Overlord. Looking up from the body of a dead novice who couldn’t have been older than twenty, he saw Commander Tumak watching him with an amused smile on his face, “You are welcome to stay or go as you wish, Father Michelson. We shall find those who escaped in the morning. You will simply be presumed dead or captured and so therefore may start your life over however you wish.” With that Tumak strode over to a groaning guardsman and began poking and cutting him with his sword for amusement. For a few seconds, Father Superior Michelson thought about picking up the gun at his feet and shooting him. However, the fear he felt whenever he saw that red devil got the better of him, so he turned around and walked out of the chapterhouse heading nowhere in particular.
Tumak had been watching him the whole time, knowing full well what he was thinking when he looked at the gun. After Michelson had turned around and walked out, Commander Tumak laughed dryly, thinking that that man had to be the most worthless being ever. At least the guardsman he was using as a toy had the courage to fight for what he believed, even if he had been brainwashed into fighting for that horrible oppressor, “the Overlord.” Tiring of his game, he pulled out his pistol and shot the wounded soldier through the head and then strode off to find more enjoyable sport. As he walked through the barracks, he could hear screams and laughter. Apparently some of his men had discovered the family barracks and were now taking ‘spoils of war.’ Smiling at that thought, he continued to locate wounded guardsmen to torture and kill. He decided to allow his men to enjoy themselves tonight; after all, the next few days would require a lot of self–control and hard work.
The following morning dawned dull and cold as befitted a planet less than four hours from darkspace. Waking up and putting on his uniform, Commander Tumak strode over to the comm system in his commandeered room. Putting a small blue crystal into the data port, he punched a command into the screen and contacted his superiors back on Helle. After informing them of the events over the last two weeks, he was told that his actions were most acceptable and that he should now replace his forces and lost ships. Then he was told something that was most surprising and more than a little unsettling. “Commander Tumak, you will be receiving a ship in the next few days that has some supplies for you. You shall set up five rooms that are interconnected for Lords Ssseeemmaass and Curiouls. Is that understood?” Tumak acknowledged the orders and said it would be done, and then, just like that, the link was broken.
Swiveling around in his chair away from the comm unit, he switched on a desktop terminal and punched in the quartermaster’s code. He requested six more ships with full crews to replace his lost ships four thousand infantrymen, and five hundred marines to replace his dead. The order was promptly confirmed and would arrive within the month. That done he sat back in his seat and considered his new orders. Ssseeemmaass and Curiouls were the Serpetine and one of the Wraith Lords respectively. They were both darkspace races that had served the Master since before the Great War. Unlike the dark creatures, they could survive outside of darkspace. He was glad they were coming because it meant that the plan was advancing. Soon the master would be back at his rightful place ruling over all space. On the other hand, he was terrified. He had no delusion as to the nature of these Dark Lords. He knew that having to work under them would be difficult as they were considered to be the cruelest and most unforgiving of any of the Dark Lords. Rousing himself from his thoughts, he contacted his aide and told him to be at his quarters in thirty minutes. When the aide arrived, he quickly outlined the news he had just received and ordered him to locate five suitable rooms.
Father Sevas could not help but smile. After they had escaped from the Calos system, they had set coordinates for Portus and, activating the light jump engines, had managed to jump four more systems than normal due to the size and power of the engines. At that point Sevas chose to recharge on the move rather than locating a way station. They were currently cutting through deep space at an incredible speed. In another six hours, the jump engines would be fully charged, and they would complete the trip to Portus in five days as opposed to the normal two weeks. Turning control over to his co–pilot, he leaned back in his command seat and went to sleep with orders that he was to be awakened when the ship was ready to jump. Six hours later, the co–pilot woke him up although to him it seemed like it had only been six minutes. Shaking himself awake, he double-checked the coordinates his second had punched in and, feeding them into the Navcomp, activated the jump sequence. Ten minutes later, they were just outside the Portus system and communicating with the White Falcon spaceport on Portus. After receiving permission to land and arranging for Father Saxus to meet him at the planet-side spaceport, he sat back in his chair and allowed his co–pilot to fly the ship in.