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    BZPB: Resurgence

    drj
    drj
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by drj Wed Sep 15, 2021 5:49 pm

    <Tanari Prime, Presidential Palace>

    Soon after Louis’ announcement, Reed’s VI ‘pinged’ with an encrypted text message from, of all people, Olivia Horwath.

    I know you have no reason to trust me, Reed, but this is getting serious, it read. You know there’s only one person in the whole Confederation who could have signed off on this nonsense. We need to talk about this. For Tanar. Call me back. Horwath.

    -----

    <Yorak>

    David Robert Jones sat on his bed, lost in thought. He’d been trying to write a diary entry, but words failed him when trying to describe the extent to which events had gotten away from him. He felt useless and defeated, effectively imprisoned and forced to watch as his beloved Tanar was effectively carved up between a regime likely backed by the New Order, and the Vrai, the old enemy.

    Suddenly, the wall across from him exploded, revealing a hover-skiff behind it, with two figures sitting on it. “Quick, get on!” one of them cried.

    “What? Who the hell are you?” Jones yelled, trying to make himself heard over the din of the engines.

    “I’m Wolf, and this is my sister Alice!” the figure replied. “We work for someone who wants to help you! Please, hurry!”

    Oh, what the hell, Jones thought. It can’t be worse than here. He scribbled a few words on a page in his diary, then tore it out and left it by the bed before clambering onto the hover-skiff. He wasn’t really sure why he’d done it, but it seemed important to let Donovan know that he wasn’t done yet.

    As guards ran up to Jones’ room, alerted by the noise, all they found was a massive hole in the wall and a note with the words ‘YOU FAILED’ written on it.

    -----

    <Yari III, Homecoming Church>

    “Aren’t we just,” Aster muttered. While she was still a little uneasy about the Vrai offer, given how convenient it was, she was certainly enjoying Rain’s even greater discomfort. The irony of the isolationist Vrai offering her military guarantees, while her supposed allies in the FSA sent only an annoying minder, was not lost on her.

    Listen to yourself, Aster, she suddenly thought to herself. You’re acting like this is your decision to make. Her job was to help put together the coalition necessary to put Lundby into office, nothing more, and one speech, even if it was well-received, didn’t change that.

    Aster silently looked Brian in the eye. She did, of course, remember him - she’d encountered him in the resistance years ago, and observed him from a distance. The loss of their loved ones at the hands of the Tanari state had profoundly shaped both Shifters, but where it had instilled a cold streak of pragmatism in Aster, a desire to make sure no such thing could ever happen to anyone else again, it had seemingly instilled something much darker and more short-termist in Brian, which Aster could sense hadn’t left him when she looked him in the eye. She assumed he’d died during or soon after the war, and frankly, she’d have felt better if that were the case.

    “Yes, of course, I remember you. It’s good to see you made it through the war, Brian.” She smiled, and awkwardly slapped him on the back. “I’d love to stay and chat, but I’m afraid I’m on a tight schedule. Stay out of trouble, young man!”

    Aster turned, and hurriedly followed the others up to Karol’s ship.

    -----

    <Yari III, Old Saskana>

    While Peter could barely conceal his surprise at Shield-Man Jones’ appearance, as well as his contempt for the man, Shae’s expression betrayed no emotion. Despite their respective career paths, there could be no doubt which of them was, in practice, the better politician.

    “If you’ll excuse me,” Peter said, and headed out for a walk in the park to clear his head.

    Skydda was, of course, entirely correct about how the Eachans had felt about him. To Silver, he was an unreliable loudmouth who didn’t fit with the image he wanted to project, and to Shae, he was a war criminal and a racist, who she did her best to steer her husband away from. By the time Silver had decided he knew better than her and swung to the right, the damage had been done to any potential relationship they might have had. Perhaps that was for the best, as otherwise Skydda might have simply have found himself in Van Smoot’s place.

    “The past is the past, Jones.” Shae poured a glass of wine and offered it to Skydda, then poured herself another. Even if she knew she didn’t actually mean it and was just using him as a blunt object, she still needed a drink before flattering the man as she needed to. “But history’s still being written. Look around. The NatCons and Von Budberg are flailing. ‘NatCon’ will probably be a dirty word within a few months, if they’re lucky. The New Order is just waiting to step in, the FSA doesn’t care, and I’m sure the Shifter Radicals are planning something that I don’t even want to think about. It’s only a matter of time before something goes badly wrong. We need leaders with both brains and balls to step in and save the Trilateral, and maybe even take over the Confederation when the time comes. And right now, you’re about the only person with either of those things I can see on the right.”

    “There are two ways this conversation ends, Jones. The first is that you don’t listen to me. Von Budberg may like the votes you bring, but he knows you’d probably outshine him, so on the off-chance he wins, he’ll probably let you rot on the backbenches. He needs to hand out jobs to all those turncoat Liberals now too, remember. You’ll go down with him, with nothing to show for it. In a hundred years, only a few military historians will have even heard of Jones Skydda. That’s not really the right way for a man like you to be remembered, is it?” Shae took another sip of wine and smirked to conceal her own amazement at the bullshit that was coming out of her mouth.

    “The other one is that, as of now, I’m running your campaign.” she said flatly. “Together we’ll find a way to make sure that your… undeniable potential doesn’t go to waste, even if your side gets stomped on paper. You’ve seen what I did for Silver’s career when everyone was writing him off, so you know I’m not making empty promises. If you do what I tell you, and find enough CUSP candidates and military men who are... principled enough to follow you, you could be… hm, shall we say defence minister of a new Trilateral republic by the end of the week? Maybe even Prime Minister if that’s the way the chips fall. Then, when we take back the Confederation… who knows? A whole new chapter of Tanari history is about to be written here, and you could be one of the main characters. Von Budberg may fall by the wayside, but you’ll live to fight the MRF another day, and your name will carry more weight than ever before… I think that’s worth working with them for a while, don’t you?”

    ---

    “Fucking hell,” Kirsten said as she looked out the window of Karol’s ship onto the grim urban landscape below. It’s not that there weren’t grim patches in Lyndon City, but from the air, Old Saskana seemed to be a whole town made up of nothing but those.

    “It used to be worse.” Aster shrugged. “There’s a nice enough park now. And they’ve managed to clean up some of the worst slums since Allman was ousted, I guess.”

    “You keep up with local politics a lot for someone who hasn’t been back for years.”

    “I do want to know what happens in Sask. Just as long as I don’t actually have to be there. Bad things happen whenever I’m here.”

    “You mean like a coup, a Malchiorian spy turning up, and the Vrai sticking their noses in?” Kirsten said. “I talked to the Malc, by the way. I… may have implied he would live to regret anything bad happening to you.”

    “You didn’t!” Aster laughed. “Rain is harmless. I think. Just an annoyance sent by Klak and Nadle because they feel a bit guilty for how the last few years have gone.”

    “Rain?”

    “He said his real name was Rain Sulrai. He’s an adamah, if you can believe it. He’s almost sympathetic… except he is what he is, you know.”

    Kirsten raised an eyebrow. “And you’re sure he can be trusted?”

    “Not even slightly.” Aster said. “But only because he’s Malchiorian. Here to ensure our loyalty, and offering absolutely nothing in exchange.”

    The ship shook slightly as it set itself down. “They’re gonna be pissed if you stick with the Vrai deal, you know.”

    “That’s not going to be my problem one way or the other.” Aster stepped up to the hatch that had just opened on the ceiling, and shortened her arms to make pulling herself up easier.

    The Shifter stood on top of Karol’s ship, and looked out around her. They’d landed in the middle of the park she’d mentioned just a minute ago, and were now surrounded by a small but growing crowd of people wondering why a seemingly undamaged ship of unfamiliar configuration had suddenly appeared. Excellent, Aster thought.

    “Right. Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?” she called out to what had, unexpectedly to them, become her audience, and launched into another speech.

    ---

    “Excellent,” ‘Siper’/Enrique said, surreptitiously reaching into his pocket to make sure he hadn’t forgotten something. “Glad we’ve sorted that out.”

    As the pair exited the train station, they began to approach the municipal park, and noted the commotion therein. “The fuck?” Enrique said as he realised the figure standing on top of the ship at the centre of the crowd was in fact their target.

    -----

    <Yari System, Shifter Rebel Warship Black Sky, Captain’s Office>

    “Ah, my good friend. Enjoying your new command, I hope?” the hologram of Richard asked. “How can I help you?”

    Vladimir Terrón sat back in what was now his armchair, looking as emotionless as ever. As Richard’s loyal right-hand man ever since their days fighting against Edward Allman together, he was a natural choice to command one of their newly-captured ships, which he’d already renamed the Black Sky - as a Shifter radical, he had absolutely no respect or use for the Tanari habit of ancestor worship. The two usually worked well together, but today, Vladimir had a bone to pick with Richard.

    “Av-Kartin’s men just removed all the Stäbil officers from our brig. On your authority.” Vladimir said. “Or so they claim.”

    “Yes, that’s right.” Richard shrugged. “I thought our allies deserved a little gift for their trouble.”

    “Right, I see. And it didn’t occur to you that the thing they know most about is presumably the ships we’re currently using? That’s not information I’d be giving away so freely just yet if I were you, Richard. The New Order could still back out of the deal, and then we’re really boned.”

    Richard chuckled. “Don’t be silly, Vlad. The New Order are our allies, and I’m already negotiating their help in upgrading our future fleet. The only people who’ll run into trouble are the Stäbils. I promise.”

    “I hope you’re right. Black Sky out.”

    Vladimir sighed, and walked over to the former Tanari captain’s drinks cabinet, where he poured himself a glass of Aluic brandy. Even though Shifters were immune from many of the negative side-effects of alcohol, and as such could partake as much as they wanted, he’d never been much of a drinker, especially during an op. This time, however, it seemed appropriate. It was, after all, the spoils of war. He sat back down in his chair, and opened up the console on his desk, which instantly displayed a notification. The Black Sky was still connected to the Confederate Navy’s networks so as not to attract suspicion, and as such they were still receiving regular Tanari news blasts. Upon opening the news blast, he was instantly confronted with the annoying face of James P. Louis, a man he despised. While they were still Stäbils by any sane definition, the Vesa Qatorians were rarely treated much better than Shifters, and yet often still held themselves out to be superior, and, while Louis himself never publicly resorted to such rhetoric, on the local level TRUST activists sometimes campaigned on the basis that their constituents should not be treated the same way as Shifters.

    As he watched the Vesa Qatorian’s speech, Vladimir became ever angrier. While the NatCon regime posed as a mere provisional government in a democracy, it regularly purged its political opponents and often made very little effort to disguise this fact - which meant that Louis had to be either very stupid, or very certain that he would not suffer any consequences for expressing such thoughts in public. Everything - Richard’s complete faith in the New Order and lack of concern about the difficulty of holding Yari, the NatCons’ blasé attitude to the Trilateral effectively declaring itself autonomous - suddenly clicked into place in the Shifter’s mind.

    Vladimir’s hope was that the New Order would help the Shifters as they had Arc Zabaton’s Akkar, allowing them to put the Stäbils in their place and integrate the Confederation into the New Order under their leadership, but clearly, this was not to be. The NatCons - at least some of them - were working with Sefer, and Richard’s job was just to control the Radicals on their behalf. There would be no reversal of the hierarchy, or even an attempt at fragile equality - Shifters would serve as, at worst, a distraction, and at best, an auxiliary to whatever puppet regime was going to be set up on Tanari Prime. The whole concept of the National Guard, of Shifters being so ground down as to serve the likes of Timothy Morgan Veidt, William Douglas Reed or Olivia Horwath, made him sick to his core, and he had no intention of following suit.

    “THAT TRAITOROUS SON OF A BITCH!” Terrón screamed, roughly slamming the console shut. On the wall opposite him was the insignia of the Confederate Navy. He hadn’t gotten around to removing it yet because it had been vandalised by a few Shifter privates during the mutiny, which made him smile, but now it just looked like it was mocking him. The house always wins.

    The bald Shifter grabbed his sidearm off the desk, and fired repeatedly at the logo. He threw the gun back down onto the desk, and stormed out of his office and onto the bridge.

    “You!” He pointed at one female officer and began yelling, the usually reserved commander’s tone coming as a shock. “What’s the status of the Agatha and the Gideons?”

    “N-nothing out of the ordinary, sir.”

    Vladimir was about to order her to open fire on the Agatha, but stopped as soon as he actually imagined himself saying the words. As much as he wanted to blow Richard’s ship out of the sky right that second, doing so right this second would achieve nothing for the cause or for himself. “Monitor all their communications and send everything to me immediately,” he finally ordered, more calmly this time. “And figure out where Enrique is. I need to speak to him ASAP.”

    -----

    <Malchior IV, Nadle’s Office>

    “Yes, I’m sure you do. You’re not here to sell out your people any more than I’m here to sell out mine. And I’m more than happy to give you, and Malchior, certain guarantees.” Blair smirked. The Malchiorian was trying to test him, but it wasn’t going to work. “But Veidt is popular, especially with the military, and he may be trying to deliver the confederacy into the arms of the New Order. So you can take as much time to analyse the information, consult your analysts, confer with your superiors as you want but you’ll still come to the same conclusions; that you never had a better option than me, and that the FSA is out of time. So we can start now, if you like, and you can have something concrete to tell President Vell. Tell me what you mean by ‘insurance’, and I’ll tell you if it’s politically possible.”

    -----

    <The Snakecharmer>

    While Blair Morrison was speaking to Nadle, a storage closet opened in his office, and the journalist who had tried to ask Blair Morrison a difficult question on Jumano emerged, coughing slightly as she did. She was convinced there was more to the oligarch’s venture into politics than he let on, and had stowed away on his ship in the hopes of discovering anything.

    Her first order of business was to try and investigate his personal computer, but unsurprisingly, it was password-protected. As she walked around the office, looking for any sort of clues as to what the answer to his security question might be, she noted a picture of Blair Morrison hanging on the wall. At first, she had to suppress a chuckle; it didn’t surprise her at all that an obvious egomaniac like Morrison would have a picture of himself hanging in his office, but then she noticed something - the picture was crooked. What sort of person, she thought, was egotistical enough to hang a picture of themselves on the wall of their office but not egotistical enough to notice something like that?

    Her first instinct was to try to adjust the picture, but it returned to its original position as soon as she let go of it. Disappointed, she dismissed it as just one of those things, but before she could move on to something else, an entire portion of the wall simply slid aside, revealing a secret chamber behind it.

    Stunned and excited in equal measure, she tentatively entered the chamber. At one end of it, a very old-looking painting was hanging on the wall, flanked by several pods big enough to fit a grown human.

    They were the last thing she saw before an alarm started blaring, and a pair of strong arms suddenly grabbed her from behind.

    -----

    <Lanorra>

    Three more holograms faced off against the Malchiorians and Vongolans - Asgarov, the Corrantian Admiral, being flanked by the respective commanders of the Vrai and Alpha Centaurian contingents.

    “I can say for certain that the OPC have no quarrel with Malchior. If only Malchior was as sure of its own intentions.” the Vrai commander grumbled. “And as for the VPR… you are agents of the Riders. How do we know you aren’t looking to stab us all in the back? The New Order is coming here anyway; no one will know either way!”

    Anna Luxon rubbed her temples. Diplomacy had never been her strong point, and yet now, she was somehow in the position of having to try and reconcile three different camps who all hated each other, and only Peter and Jinx seemed to be keeping their eye on the ball.

    “Let me be perfectly clear,” Luxon said. She was no good at diplomacy, she decided, but she could lay down the law. “Some of you are here by our invitation, some of you have decided to drop in out of concern for our cause. The FTA welcomes all your help, but I’d also like to remind you that Lanorra isn’t a free-for-all. We have jurisdiction here, as well as the majority of the guns, and as long as this joint operation is ongoing, we are in command, and your mutual grievances, long-running, complicated, and annoying as they are, are extremely uninteresting to us. If you want to hash them out, do it another day, in another system. If anyone tries to cause trouble here, all the other factions represented here should feel free to turn their guns on them as they would on the New Order or any other threat to the security of Lanorra and this flotilla. Have I made myself clear?”

    Anna had no real intention of starting a shoot-out with either the Malchiorians, the OPC or the VPR, but she nevertheless hoped raising the spectre would bring all assembled back to reality. In any case, it certainly succeeded in causing everyone to fall silent, so Anna pressed on. “Good. As Colonel Ardennes said, two Arcs are probably headed here… which means it’s an opportunity to destroy two Arcs in one fell swoop. I suggest we all keep our eyes on that prize. Lt. Commander Jarres, if you will.”

    A large holographic map of the Lanorran system appeared in the centre of the room. At the same time, an FTA officer standing away from the meeting approached the commanders, and drew their attention to the system’s asteroid belt using a large pointer.

    “Full disclosure: to level the odds, we’ve mined the Lanorran asteroid belt with a mixture of concealed nukes and EMP weapons. We’ve placed some closer to the planet as well.” Lt. Commander Romeo Jarres explained. “We don’t know where exactly the New Order ships will drop out of FTL, so we may need someone to lure them into the belt. Unless, of course, any of you have a better idea.”

    -----

    <Micho>

    “Oh, it was fine, really.” Ashton said, trying to maintain a poker face as Jeris squeezed his hand just a little too tightly. Amanda noticed his obvious struggle, and had to stop herself sniggering.

    “Figures. Bloody anti-cyclopean racists! We have xenophobes on my homeworld too, but you know, at least we have an excuse for being short-sighted!” Pes complained. “It’s sad. You know, I can imagine some of these houses fitting right in on the streets of Retorian. But these days they’ll call you an Allmanite for even studying these things, let alone suggesting we take some inspiration! Trust me, I’ve tried!”

    Pes followed the group, still ranting about Teruga Prime as he did so. Ashton tried to do the same, but suddenly found his path blocked by Amanda.

    “You were going to kill him, weren’t you?” she said, having first confirmed the others were out of earshot, and stolen a quick glance at Regina specifically in the process. Ashton tried to get past her, but she grabbed him by the shoulder.

    “You want to do this now? Really?”

    “Ash, this… this isn’t sustainable. Look, I’ll grant you, Regina is a hell of a woman, but you’re obsessed with her. And Amy too. You were ready to kill Van Smoot back on Tanari Prime, and he ended up being our ticket out of there…”

    “I’m pretty sure that Aster woman was our actual ticket out of there! And I didn’t actually do any of those things, did I?” Ashton snapped. “Amanda, we work together. Nothing more. I’ll thank you to stay the fuck out of my emotional life.”

    “Your emotional life becomes my business when it means we’re constantly narrowly dodging disasters because of you. If you hadn’t copped the fuck on at the last minute, your great lost love would probably have left all of us on the Narayanastra, or worse. And you really think the Tanari would have just agreed to forget the whole embarrassing incident if you’d beaten one of their generals to death? As you are now, you’re a god damned liability, Ashton, and you need to realise that before something really bad happens.” Amanda sighed deeply. “Oh, who am I kidding? You’ll probably just go on as before, but you’ll add me to the list.”

    Ashton spluttered. “But… I don’t…”

    “Oh, at least that got your attention.” She rolled her eyes. “Good. Keep it that way.”

    Amanda stormed off to join the group. Ashton followed more slowly, pondering her words.

    -----

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told, Level 57-B>

    Prush (and presumably Mavis too) were waiting on Level 57-B, not too far away from the storage area where they’d been told Sophie Vinderen was hiding, and considering their next move when Sally arrived (presumably with Oblique, Halo, and Nexus in tow).

    “Ah, Sally! Just the person I needed to see.” Prush said a bit too excitedly, immediately leading Sally to suspect he wanted something from her. “Er, Vinderen has changed the key code somehow.”

    “And? What does that have to do with me? You’re the big, strong security officer…” Sally snarked.

    “Yeahhhh, but the engineers always complain so much when they have to put the door back on the hinges. And Antivaks is creepy, I don’t want to have to see him for another shoulder problem…”

    “Oh my gods, you are such a baby!” Sally laughed. “Alright, everyone stand back!” The Shifter closed her eyes and began to focus. A second later, the door had been telekinetically forced open, and Prush, gun in hand, burst into the room, much to the surprise of Vinderen and her two goons. “Sophie Vinderen, you’re under arrest!” he yelled, as both goons drew their own weapons, preparing for a shootout.

    -----

    <Malchior IV, FSA HQ>

    Turel looked on blankly - something he was well-trained at - as Figlio explained his backup plan. There was no doubt in his mind that Ascheron’s victory would be better for the cause, while prior VPR recruitment campaigns had seen decidedly mixed results. However, Ascheron’s victory was now also very unlikely, partly thanks to what he saw as his superior’s miscalculation, while the recruitment campaign would strengthen his own position, potentially putting him in a position to do much more for the cause than ever before.

    For possibly the first time ever, Turel recognised a potential contradiction between Figlio di Armechio and the cause he believed in. “Very well,” he finally said quietly. “Come what may, we stand united.”

    ---

    Lazran Osvaldo Dahl smiled as the staffer tentatively confirmed he would have a place in a Malcovus Secretariat. ‘Deputy Secretary-General Dahl’ had a nice ring to it, he thought.

    As the unmoderated caucus began, Lazran spoke to the delegations of a few states he’d identified as swing votes. All of them now seemed to be for Malcovus, which pleased him. With the vote seemingly in the bag, he moved on and walked up to Ambassador Gilclack and the rest of her delegation. They were clearly in no mood to speak to him, but he was in a gloating mood.

    “Pulling out M’orv and the widow. Clever. Tricks and gambits like that do usually work in our gynocentric Zardoz world.” Lazran said to Gilclack, getting slightly too close to her in the process. “Not this time though, Madam Ambassador. Many governments throughout the free galaxy have great hopes for the next Sec-Gen… and I fervently hope Malchior isn’t going to become obstructive just because it didn’t get its way for once. Good day, Ambassador.”

    He walked off, snatching a glass of claret one of the Malchiorian staffers was reaching for along the way off a waiter’s plate as he did so.

    -----

    <Vongola, Kozin’s Camp>

    “Stand down, Lieutenant. I’m just an Inquisidora.” Kora replied. “May we speak in private?” She rose, and began to walk out of the tent.

    -----

    <Vongola, Refugee Escort Mission>

    As the convoy set off into the wilderness, Walker soon noted that the ATV he’d gotten into was driven by Sergei himself, who was completely silent but nevertheless eyed him suspiciously from time to time.

    “Walker, is it?” Sergei finally said. “What made you join the VRR, young man?”

    -----
    JS
    JS
    Cruel Angel's Thesis
    Cruel Angel's Thesis


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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by JS Fri Sep 17, 2021 12:14 am

    [ Enumcharad's Wake ]

    Fighting PsyTroopers was never easy - even without access to their pool of reincarnative knowledge, they were still top-rate physical combatants with non-existent pain and stamina thresholds - but now that they couldn't learn from their fights with Kakamu, Muta and Vekhta, the trio were able to settle into a rhythm that was slowly but surely giving them the upper hand. Muta had the bulk and the raw strength - as well as advantage in that the PsyTroopers had little data in combating opponents of his build and stature. Kakamu had the range and the raw combative instinct - drawing his spear around him as if it were an extension of his own body, making equal use of the dull blunt end and the sharp flaming end in a way only an uplifted hunter-gatherer could. And Vekhta?

    Vekhta had a sword.

    The PsyTroopers fell back as they approached their breaking points - limbs missing, armor shattered - and disappeared beyond the material realm one-by-one rather than allowing themselves to fall. Vekhta didn't know whether they were acting on Keylana's orders, or following their own self-preservation instincts - and she didn't particularly care. Each one that flickered out of existence before her eyes was one less obstacle between her, Kakamu, Muta, and the ship.

    Kakamu drove the tip of the Guardian Fire Spear into the last PsyTrooper, twisted it, and watched his opponent fall to the ground in a smoking heap, burnt out from the inside by white-hot flame. The trio turned to face the length of the hangar, expecting to see a wall of opponents ready to face them - but instead found it deserted, eerily silent. No, not quite silent.

    Clap. Clap. Clap.

    Just as reality had moments ago warped to facilitate the retreat of the PsyTroopers, now it warped to reveal a masked figure, slowly clapping his hands, calmly pacing the length of the hangar bay towards the trio. He wore a New Order officer's uniform, a vast cape billowing out behind him; the upper half of his face was hidden behind an angular white domino-style mask which fully obscured his eyes, red circuit-board like patterns running along its vertices. Kakamu stepped forwards as if to shield Muta and Vekhta, igniting the Guardian Fire Spear and angling it towards the masked man - only for Vekhta to step forward, gently placing a hand on Kakamu's shoulder as if seeking to de-escalate the situation. As though in a trance she stepped forwards, one hand still gripped tightly around the handle of her sword, a confused expression upon her face.

    "You're... you're a Yuzari, aren't you?"

    Arc Domino grinned. "That, and so much more."

    Vekhta raised the point of her sword towards him. "I don't know who you are, or what you're doing here, but it is imperative you take off that mask right now."

    Arc Domino came to a stop, considering Vekhta's demand. Then, he calmly raised a hand to his mask, depressing two facets on either side to detach it from his face; it came away from his skin with a hermetic hiss, the psycho-alloy conduits slowly powering down, turning a dull black. Smiling warmly, he placed the mask into a small leather holster on his belt, then turned to look black at Vekhta.

    "Satisfied, Vekhta? Oh, I can see it in your eyes. You thought this mask was controlling me, didn't you? You thought that, before you, stood yet another obstacle with a simple brute force answer, likely because you don't possess the mental acuity to tackle an obstacle of any other variety. I am here of my own free will. Of those present, I alone can make that claim."

    Kakamu stepped forwards again, re-igniting the spear as if ignoring Vekhta's earlier call for caution.

    "And perhaps you wouldn't mind explaining why you're here?" he asked, gritting his teeth. Vekhta, too, sunk down into a low combat stance, her blade at the ready, anticipating bloodshed - and slightly too shaken to engage in discourse. Of all the things she had been expecting to see, a member of her own race - who appeared to be willingly working with the New Order - wasn't one of them.

    "I am here because of the choices I've made. I am here because, unlike your companion, I am fully aware of the purpose for which my race was originally created. I am here because the Emperor has given me a new life, a new purpose, a role in this great crusade." he said, reaching up to unclasp his cape, allowing it to fall to the ground. "But most of all... I am here as a distraction."

    "A distr-?"

    Kakamu turned, drawing the blade of the Guardian Fire Spear up and directly towards Vekhta's face. She immediately ducked under it, rolling forwards - extremely confused as to why Kakamu had seemingly just tried to decapitate her - but likely had her questions answered when the spear clashed hard against the wrist-mounted blade of the PsyTrooper who had just decloaked behind her, the high-pitched whine of a vibroblade collision piercing her eardrums. It took Kakamu's mind a moment to resgister the PsyTrooper's appearance; it - she - was unhelmeted, her armor a dark, desaturated purple broken up with dark red accents. Her grey hair was cut to shoulder-length, tied in a half-updo; her glowing red eyes were fixated on Kakamu, and they were angry.

    "More PsyTroopers?" asked Vekhta, jumping to her feet, readying her blade as the StealthTrooper leapt backwards, distancing itself from the trio. Kakamu  tightly gripped the Guardian Fire Spear, settling into a hunting stance.

    "Worse."

    "Madrahz. Roghan." called out Domino, a look of ornery glee forming on his face as he placed his mask back upon it. "Terminate them."

    Roghan reappeared from a different direction altogether, sprinting towards Vekhta at breakneck speed, her mechanical feet tapping out a rapid metallic drum-beat as she rapidly closed the distance between the two fighters. Vekhta raised her right arm, launching a bolt of antipsychic lightning in her direction; rather than try to dodge it as the other PsyTroopers had, Roghan raised her twin wrist-mounted vibroblades up in a cross formation, taking the blast and absorbing it into her armor. A stunned Vekhta barely had time to raise her sword to block the still-charging PsyTrooper - Kakamu watched on in horror, but was forced to turn away at the last moment as his instincts alerted him to something equally perilous approaching him.

    "Muta. Get to the ship."

    Kakamu's mechanical companion wasted no time - barreling into a full-on sprint towards La Xara, crossing the deck in leaps and bounds as the second PsyTrooper closed in on Kakamu, carrying a cybernetic blade wreathed in blue flame, clad in dark blue armor accented with orange. Like her shadowy companion, this one was similarly unhelmeted - though Madrahz held a merely disinterested look as she closed in on the Tekkui. Kakamu didn't wait for her to strike, instead pushing the advantage - spearing towards center mass with the flaming tip of his spear. She calmly blocked - catching the spear between its twin prongs with her own sword, her blue flame clashing with Kakamu's, pushing the two fighters apart violently.

    Vekhta found herself pushed back and back, barely able to block the attacks of two wrist-mounted vibroblades with a single sword; worse still, her own blade was fracturing under the stress of repeated piezokinetic strikes. Roghan was fighting like no PsyTrooper Vekhta had ever met - feigning, feinting, as if she were toying with the Yuzari - tiring her out before going in for the kill.

    "Kakamu. Swap."

    The two fighters pressed their backs to eachother, and swung around, each turning to face the other's opponent. Kakamu's Guardian Fire Spear was a far better tool against Roghan's blades than Vekhta's sword had been; he confidently stepped forwards, keeping her at a distance where her blades couldn't close in; Vekhta pushed the offensive against Madrahz, locking the FlameTrooper in a one-on-one sword duel where the Yuzari's honed martial instincts had the opportunity to prevail. In the distance, La Xara lifted off; Muta stood in the cargo bay entrance, piloting the entire ship through a data port as he steered the warship down the length of the hangar.

    "Vekhta - let's go."

    Vekhta nodded, and pulled back from Madrahz, disengaging. Madrahz responded by launching a gout of blue flame from the palm of her hand, which Vekhta countered with a bolt of antipsychic lighting - the space between the two exploded, sending Madrahz flying back, but the FlameTrooper wasted no time in regaining her footing, launching into a full-on sprint towards her opponents. Roghan joined in the sprint too, closing in on Kakamu and Vekhta at a terrifying rate as the Yuzari and Tekkui made for the approaching cargo ramp. A CIWS turret unfolded from the base of La Xara and opened up into the space behind Vekhta and Kakamu, saturating the hangar deck with high-explosive detonations, though this did little to deter their pursuers. Kakama grabbed hold of Vekhta by the upper arm and launched himself upwards atop a blast of fire from the Guardian Fire Spear, pulling with him up into the waiting hangar bay. Muta banked the ship hard, angling it towards the cold vacuum of space outside - he pushed the engines to a full-burn, melting the segment of hangar wall directly behind La Xara as it accelerated out. Madrahz slid to a halt, summoning a massive wave of blue flame around her body before condensing it to a single point of blue light atop her, then shooting a heat laser towards La Xara that cut across the hull, searing the surface and detonating one of the engines. A lesser pilot wouldn't have been able to compensate for the sudden change in the direction of thrust, and La Xara would have been sent crashing into one of the side walls of the hangar; Muta, however, was not a lesser pilot.

    La Xara shot out of the hangar bay, and the second it was outside of Enumcharad's direct gravitational sphere of influence, jumped to FTL.

    Vekhta fell flat on her backside, gasping for air, drenched in sweat; Kakamu seemed to fare little better, hunched over with his hands on his knees, struggling to regain his breath. Muta observed the two without saying a word, his hand still plugged into the dataport through which he was piloting the entire ship. Vekhta's glass forearm collapsed and she was once again left with a stump - her Yuzari telekinesis couldn't work outside of a combat situation. She grabbed hold of the cargo harness affixed to the wall behind her and used it to steady her feet as she pulled herself back upright.

    "What the hell were those two?" asked Kakamu, pausing for breath after seemingly every other syllable. "I've heard of PsyCommanders, but those were more like-"

    Kakamu's ability to speak was suddenly compromised by the fact that his Yuzari companion was now kissing him - quite forcefully, in fact - pressing him against the wall behind him in the process. She pulled back.

    "Priorities, man." she chided, her lips coiling upwards into a teasing smirk.

    La Xara continued on its escape trajectory, accelerating away from Enumcharad's Wake to destinations unknown. Aboard Enumcharad's Wake, various firefighting and disaster response teams burst into the hangar pay, rapidly moving to address the massive damage left behind by La Xara's escape burn. Domino stood amidst the flaming wreckage; Madrahz and Roghan approached, the former dismissing the column of blue flame that surrounded her blade and sheathing it. Domino smiled warmly as he looked around the flaming hangar bay.

    As, on the retinal display built into his mask, the location of the tracking beacon he had affixed to La Xara was being displayed in real time.

    "Your performance was a stunning success." congratulated Domino, as the four remaining members of his PsyTrooper team re-materialized around him. "And it appears Keylana's loss is our gain. We are one step closer to our unknown enemy. We are one step closer... to Blackout."

    ---

    [ Tanari Presidential Palace ]

    Reed sat in the Presidential Study, awaiting Horwath's arrival. Ordinarily, usage of the study was by invitation of the President only - but someone had seemingly distracted Peres with a centuries-old documentary about a prison in the Miami-Dade area back on Earth, meaning the study was essentially Reed's for the next forty-five minutes.

    "Bill Louis is fucking untouchable." he exclaimed, trawling through the dossiers he had on the man. Reed had a habit of archiving dirt on potential political rivals, no matter how distant - and it wasn't a habit he had discarded since his promotion to Vice President. William P. Louis was, almost literally, untouchable. He didn't sleep around, didn't partake, didn't drink, had no criminal record - he was like some kind of cowboy-hat-wearing Eunuch uniquely suited to existing within the public eye. The best Reed had managed so far was digging up dirt on Bill Louis's hairdresser - but perhaps that'd have to do. He could blackmail the man. Yes, he would blackmail the man - force him to give Bill Louis the worst haircut the confederacy had ever seen.

    Reed sighed; this was all, ultimately, a useless distraction. He wasn't happy about having to ally with Horwath. He wasn't happy about many things. But most of all, he wasn't happy about the prospect of the New Order flag flying over the Tanari capital.

    The enemy of my enemy, huh?

    At that moment, the door swung open.

    ---

    [ Phoenix Talon ]

    Salem had been speaking to Klak's security advisers for roughly half an hour, compiling a holographic dossier on Malcovus and his actions which floated on a holographic table in the center of Klak's presidential cabin. When Klak - who had been sitting silently, observing the meeting - suddenly asked Salem whether everything was alright, Salem looked over to him - and couldn't believe what he saw. Where moments ago the president had been sat, now sat a clean-shaven man with sculpted features, dark brown hair slid back over his head, clad in purple robes. Salem felt panic sink over his body - struggling with all his might to reign in his fight-or-flight instincts as he heard his father's voice echo in his mind.

    Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

    Salem blinked. The sinister man who had been sitting across from him was now replaced by President Klak. No - not replaced - Salem had obviously just been seeing things to begin with. He was tired, and tired enough that he could not truly consider himself sober of mind.

    "Everything... everything's alright, Mr. President." responded Salem, the adrenaline within his body subsiding. "Take a look... at the data we've collated."
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    Post by drj Sat Sep 18, 2021 5:08 am

    <Tanari Prime, Presidential Palace>

    The door swung open, but to Reed’s surprise, it was not Horwath who entered, but a roughly roomba-sized robotic holographic projector, walking around on six legs. Once the door had shut behind it, it projected a life-size hologram of a woman in a sharp pinstripe suit, flanked by what appeared to be some kind of robot, and a silent, hooded figure.

    “Hello, Vice President. My name is Wolf,” the woman said, pointing to the robot. “And this is Alice. We represent the Confederate Secret Service.”

    A much more familiar voice came from behind Reed. She definitely hadn’t been there before, and there was no obvious way for her to have entered the study without Reed noticing, but ever since Horwath had become National Security Advisor, work crews had been in and out of the palace, supposedly installing new security systems to prevent another repeat of the Sylen Kurze incident. Clearly, though, that wasn’t all they were doing.

    “The fact is, Reed, we’re in extremely grave danger. Louis is the perfect figurehead. Charismatic and untainted in a way neither of us are, has the immigrant vote locked up, and Veidt can and will throw his weight behind him.” Horwath explained. “Thanks to your little lockdown stunt, we’ve been able to replace many of the local officials who’d be counting the votes in any election, but Veidt will intervene if he realises we’re putting our thumb on the scales. That’s why we need a candidate who can legitimately go toe-to-toe with Louis.”

    At that point, the hooded figure stepped forward, and unmasked himself. “Ah, we meet at last,” said David Robert Jones. “Don’t worry, I’m not doing this for you. Thanks to this little coup of yours, the Trilateral worlds are planning to secede after the Yari election, and they have the bloody Vrai backing them up. They kept me prisoner since you took over because they knew I wouldn’t go along with it. Well, I won’t let it happen.”

    “My proposal is simple, and Mr. Jones has already agreed to it.” Horwath said. “He runs as our candidate for President, with Blair Morrison as his running mate. They’re as untainted as Louis is. The two of us put all our skills and resources at the campaign’s disposal, and have our pick of the cabinet-level positions if we win. Blair is currently… impressing upon the Malchiorians how dangerous Veidt is. Hopefully they’ll help us sink him in a way that won’t also take Tanar down with him.”

    “And if Vell and Akuram don’t listen to him, they’ll listen to me.” Jones cut in, and looked Reed in the eye. “We both want the same thing, Reed, at least I hope we do. We want to ensure the unity and safety of the confederacy… and we want Morgan Peres’ head on a platter.”

    -----

    <Vongola, City of Sards>

    Smile and nod, Rosa. Just smile and nod.

    As Sergei Mikurin, as well as hundreds upon hundreds of her shop’s satisfied customers would undoubtedly attest, Rosa could be a very charming woman. Unfortunately, her kryptonite - the thing that made all that talent go right out the window - was the traditional annual gala at the Sards Chamber of Commerce. Its suspension for the last two years or so had been one of the very few good things about the Vongolan civil war, but Thomas Phaedrus Kane’s new regime, revelling in the stability it had - at least temporarily - re-established, brought it right back.

    Either Rosa was out of practice, or she could swear this gala was somehow more boring than previous ones she’d forced herself to attend. Admittedly it didn’t help that she’d been cornered by another businesswoman, Kara Bettany. Rosa truly hated Kara - not only were they direct competitors, with Kara being slightly more successful, but she had an annoying habit of smoking cigars in completely inappropriate locations, she was an extremely vocal supporter of Kane, and she insisted on telling everyone she met implausibly boring stories about things that had recently happened to her. To add insult to injury, she and Rosa had shown up to the gala wearing very similar outfits - although that was mostly Rosa’s fault, as she’d worn her favourite blue velvet dress to her date with Sergei and it was now temporarily out of commission.

    Half an hour into yet another extremely boring story, Rosa managed to take advantage of the appearance of one of Kara’s friends to escape, and headed straight for the bar. Thankfully, the alcohol at these functions was usually cheap - Chamber of Commerce goons loved to get drunk, and everyone else needed it as an anaesthetic. She ordered herself a cocktail, and was about to pay, only for a man to suddenly appear and pull out his own credit chip.

    “Let me get that for you, ma’am,” said Nathan 'The Captain' Smith , the de facto administrator of the city under Kane’s regime.

    “Can I help you?” Rosa snapped. While she usually hadn’t had many objections to Smith’s administration - it had, after all, even convinced her it was worth it to not evade tax as blatantly, at least temporarily - that had changed a bit since their recent ‘we know where you live’ stunt.

    “The heroes of Sards shouldn’t need to pay… nor their partners, for that matter.” The Captain shrugged.

    “Heroes of Sards?” Rosa took a sip of her cocktail. “What are you talking about?”

    “Get used to it, ma’am. You’re about to be very famous around here! Or, rather, Colonel Mikurin is about to be very famous around here. But notoriety rubs off! That’s what these functions are for. Oh, by the way, smile!” he said, pointing towards a passing photographer.

    “Smile?”

    Rosa turned to see what he was talking about, just in time for the photographer to take a few pictures of the two together - most of which, if not all, Rosa figured would probably look atrocious.

    The Captain smirked. “I presume your boyfriend didn’t tell you the precise purpose of his current mission.”

    “He was told the mission was to escort a refugee convoy,” said Rosa. “But between the way Salvador throw their weight around here, and you poking your nose in my business and sending goons to check up on me and Sergei, I’m getting the distinct impression that’s just a cover story.”

    “I suppose you deserve to know.” Nathan chuckled, and leaned in closer. “He will be escorting a refugee convoy, yes. But you’re right that the Salvador Foundation has some powerful off-world benefactors. One of their agents has managed to get their hands on a truly fascinating, and extremely useful artifact, one that could help us win the war, and they’re handing it over to us. Oh, for a price, of course. But that’s nothing you need to be concerned with.”

    Rosa raised an eyebrow. “Why the fuck are you telling me this?”

    “So you can feel proud of him a little earlier than scheduled. Like I said, he’s about to be a hero to Sards, and you’re the partner of a hero, as well as a loyal citizen. And I believe in being generous to my loyal citizens. Have a good evening, ma’am.”

    -----

    <A Dark Dimension>

    While Edward Allman wasn’t expecting the afterlife to involve physical labour, that, however, was exactly what his fate had turned out to be. Whether it was inherent to the nature of the artifact, or just a cruel joke on Blackout’s behalf, the shining red crystal he was currently pushing towards a makeshift circle composed of ten other such crystals was shockingly heavy.

    The landscape around him was pitch-black, with only the odd ethereal flame providing light and heat. As Blackout had explained to him, the dimension he was now trapped in had once been used by the Voids to resurrect the dead - in the event they had arrived slightly too late to heal someone they intended to, their soul could be intercepted and preserved there, then liberated once more into the mortal world at the cost of one other soul. While this mechanism was used very rarely, once news of its existence had spread to other species, slanderous rumours inevitably arose that the Voids deliberately provoked wars between other peoples in order to harvest their souls and keep their own species immortal. A coalition of powerful races put aside their differences to wage war against the Voids, and eventually succeeded in sealing them in another dimension - which, of course, did nothing to prevent further conflict throughout the galaxy.

    At least, that’s what Blackout had claimed. Allman had never been particularly interested in the history of the Voids, but even he had eventually noticed that every time Blackout told such stories, he contradicted things he’d said in the past. He suspected Blackout was leaving things out to make his species look better - and in fairness, he would probably have done the same thing in his place.

    With the disappearance, and subsequent extinction of the Voids, the dimension had seen no use for countless years - until Blackout had decided the deceased Allman should be punished for his failure. His soul had remained within the dimension for five years, until he’d managed to reach a bargain with Blackout. The Void would use one of his enemies’ souls to resurrect Allman, who in turn would use his second chance to cause chaos throughout the galaxy, just as Blackout wanted. At first, Blackout planned to use Silver Eachan’s soul, but the doctors on Tanari Prime had, against all odds, managed to save his life - so another, even more ironic soul had to be identified.

    Allman gave one final push, aligning the final crystal with the rest of the circle. All eleven began to glow ominously, indicating that the ritual could soon begin - and that the necessary soul was on its way.

    -----
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Kon Sat Sep 18, 2021 12:52 pm

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told, Level 57-B>

    For a moment, Oblique considered unlocking Halo's sword form and demonstrating the full extent of his power against Vinderen and her goons, but eventually decided on a more subtle demonstration of his power instead. With a flick of his wrist, Vinderen's goons found their weapons telekinetically wrenched out of their hands and flung across the room towards Oblique and his allies, clattering against the floor.

    "Resistance... is not advised," he frowned, holding Halo against his chest and slowly pulling back one of Halo's strings. Upon releasing it, a shockwave rippled out from Halo towards the trio of villains, visibly distorting the air.

    -----

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told, Brig>

    Meanwhile, the door to the brig slid open to reveal the immobile, bikini-clad body of Bill being dragged across the floor by two security guards clad in all black. Although their features were obscured by their helmets, their voices were instantly recognizable to the other security staff present in the room.

    "We, uh, received a report of an unauthorized pool on the lower decks," Mike said in a serious tone, holding Bill upright while his partner opened a cell door to throw him in. Despite the fact that Bill seemed to have no control over his new body, Mike roughly threw him into the cell, causing him to collapse onto the floor face-first.

    "What a sicko!" Dave agreed, dusting his hands. "Unauthorized pools? What next, unauthorized conga lines?! The world's gone mad, I tell ya!"

    "Actually, unauthorized conga lines are pretty fun. Remember that one last year, on New Year's Eve, where Prush and Praxter-"

    "Shut up, Mike."

    -----

    <La Xara>

    As his breaths returned to a normal rate, Kakamu met Vekhta's eyes and laughed in relief, hardly able to believe that they had succeeded. Freeing her from Keylana's grasp had seemed like an impossible task when there was so much stacked against them; he had never dared to defy an adamah before, let alone one as powerful as his former mentor, but somehow Vekhta made the impossible seem possible. From what Voorak-Kah had implied, Kakamu was expecting to find the worst upon stepping onto the Enumcharad's Wake, mentally preparing himself to succumb to a new crusade to avenge her death, so the fact that she was here, alive, with Muta putting as much distance between her and Keylana as he possibly could, filled him with immeasurable joy. As he stared into her, Kakamu realized that his father's words in his dream had been correct: she was worth it. As Vekhta stared hungrily back at him, his mind exploded with possibilities - but one of her words lingered in his mind: priorities. Despite the nagging of his Tekkui instincts, there were a few things he still needed to take care of before he could finally relax.

    "Muta, what's the status of our prisoners?" Kakamu asked, placing the Guardian Fire Spear on his back and tearing his eyes away from Vekhta long enough to see what Muta was doing.

    "Onboard bio-scanners report that Motrokh remains in the holding cell, with the head of Voorak-Kah," Muta replied, his head rotating to look at Kakamu while keeping his hand plugged firmly in the data port of the ship's hangar.

    "Good," Kakamu said firmly. "Find us somewhere we can drop them off, preferably somewhere isolated. We may also need to make repairs. How are the engines?"

    "Stable. The secondary aft engine has been destroyed, reducing the maximum speed of La Xara to 80%. However, the damage is isolated to that area."

    "I can live with that. Pick a planet - any planet, or moon, or station - and get us there tomorrow. I think we all need time to rest first," Kakamu decided, turning back to Vekhta and smiling. "Come on, I want to show you something."

    Kakamu began to take Vekhta towards the exit of the hangar bay, but stopped when he noticed Muta watching them with an expression that was unusual for him. The thin metal plates that functioned as his eyebrows were pointed downwards, covering part of his eyes, with the electronic diodes of his eyes being lit in a pattern that Kakamu had not seen before.

    "Muta, is there something wrong?" Kakamu asked.

    "No," Muta responded stoically, continuing to watch him. "It is... I think... I am beginning to understand."

    Kakamu nodded, not fully understanding what Muta meant, but glad that the android had also seemed to have gotten something out of the rescue.

    Upon leaving the hangar, Kakamu took Vekhta on a brief tour of the ship, pointing out the toilets, shower facilities, and a food storage room on the way. Eventually, they arrived in Kakamu's quarters, a grey, boxy room similar to the one Vekhta had stayed in during her last visit to La Xara, albeit with even fewer personal effects. There were no paintings, ornaments, or family photographs, just metal clips on the walls to hold his armor and the Guardian Fire Spear. However, Vekhta was relieved to see that Kakamu at least owned a bed with sheets - he wasn't that minimalist. Kakamu kneeled down and reached under the bed, retrieving a rectangular metal case that he placed on the bed and opened.

    Inside the case was a technological sword which seemed to have been primarily forged from a bright yellowish-gold-colored metal, with a semi-circular handle that protruded from its bottom and connected to its back. Kakamu picked up the sword with his right hand and pressed his thumb into an indent, causing blue electricity to suddenly burst across the outmost edge of the blade, crackling violently. Kakamu smiled and released his thumb from the groove to instead channel some of his own elemental fire energy into the blade, causing the electricity to be replaced by flames. Satisfied, Kakamu deactivated the sword and held in front of Vekhta with both hands, examining it.

    "This is the Kordaz Sabersword," Kakamu explained. "It's a sword made of Tekkonite, a metal from my homeworld capable of channelling almost any type of energy without losing structural integrity. It contains an energy crystal that gives the blade's edge a cutting power similar to your former beam sabers - colored blue, but we could probably alter it to make the light orange if you want. I created it as a replacement for the Guardian Fire Spear in case it was ever lost or damaged in combat, but I want you to have it. That PsyTrooper sword you're holding doesn't look like it'll last for much longer, and it's the least I can do after I destroyed your previous weapons. Plus, I want to thank you... for freeing me."
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    Post by JS Sun Sep 19, 2021 10:25 pm

    [ La Xara ]

    Vekhta gently took the sabersword from Kakamu, and stepped backwards from him, giving it a spin. It felt strange in the hand - the centre of mass was forward of the grip, rather than in-line with it - and part of Vekhta wondered what Tekkui forearm anatomy must look like for such a design to be intuitive for them. Still, it felt effective - and the craftsmanship was excellent, though she had to admit she had a bias towards the creator of this specific weapon. Something approaching a grin formed on her face.

    "I like it. Though you might want to think twice about letting me keep this - I, uh, have a habit of going through these fairly quickly."

    Vekhta reached down and placed the weapon to the side of her hip as if to sheath it - and it hung in place, as if held there by an invisible scabbard. She turned her attention to her right arm, which still ended at the elbow, and stuck it forward in Kakamu's general direction.

    "Arms, too, it seems. I'd appreciate it if we could stop off somewhere were I can get this sorted, before we go charging headfirst into our next suicide mission."
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Kon Mon Sep 20, 2021 7:15 pm

    <La Xara>

    "Oh... yes, that's another one I owe you," Kakamu said regretfully, his gaze drawn to the stump of Vekhta's right arm. In an instant, he was taken back to their duel on Shen Zhou, watching his own hand drive the Guardian Fire Spear through her arm while he could do nothing but watch, trapped as an observer in his own body. Kakamu quietly shuddered and blinked, forcing the memories to the back of his mind as he brushed a few locks of his new brown hair away from his eyes. He then turned away from Vekhta, detached the Guardian Fire Spear from his back, and placed it horizontally atop its clips on the wall before turning back to her, an idea dawning on him.

    "Hold that thought," he said, leaving the room.

    Though Vekhta did not follow him, she heard him jog down the corridor, which was followed by something that sounded like machinery scraping against a metal floor. After a few moments, the scraping noise was interrupted by the sounds of a small explosion and an electrical discharge, both of which caused Kakamu to curse in what Vekhta assumed was his native language, much to her curiosity. Just as she was about to investigate, Kakamu reappeared in the doorway, proudly holding a limp, lower right mechanical forearm and hand. He held it up against Vekhta's stump, comparing its width and length to that of her left arm and finding it to be roughly in proportion - but whether Vekhta would accept it was another question altogether. After all, it wasn't exactly new, nor designed to be attached to the body of an organic being, but Vekhta had to admit that there was something poetically ironic about the prospect of Voorak-Kah's arm being used by an organic.

    "I... don't have much else to offer," Kakamu admitted, looking around the empty room. Remembering something, he knelt down in front of his bed and reached under it, retrieving a short, red-hued New Order vibroblade that was also about the length of her forearm and placing the handle in her hand. "Up until now, everything I had was provided by Arc Keylana. I'm not sure if I have... money."
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by JS Tue Sep 21, 2021 11:07 pm

    [ Perugia, Orbit ]

    The Sentinel-class battlecruiser Scipio Africanus emerged from FTL, its quad fusion engines immediately igniting, a casting a quarter-mile long drive plume that decelerated the warship into a stable orbit. Hovering above the planet was a vast artificial ring measuring roughly 15 kilometres in diameter. As Scipio Africanus approached, more of its details came into view; though too small to be a true ringworld, the structure was still built with the majority of its superstructure on the wide, inwards-facing surface - huge reactor bulbs and storage tanks were arranged alongside residential structures, communications arrays, research facilities and command and control centers, imitating a small city in space.

    On the bridge of the Scipio Africanus, Arc Isha watched with consternation as the throneship Arkenath's Mantle grew from a mere speck in the distance. As an adamah, she didn't feel fear - but she still had self-preservation instincts.

    The Africanus docked, and Isha disembarked, alone. The interior of the ship was deserted - not that it appeared designed for habitation by any living being at all . Featureless walls of black quartz concealed doors that slid silently open at her approach, guiding her in the general destination of whatever the ship had determined her destination to be. She found herself wandering down a narrow, formless corridor with no end in sight, and as she did a melody grew in volume and intensity. A door appeared at the end of the corridor, sliding open; two thinking machines stood beyond, standing sentinel outside of Arc PLUTUS's inner sanctum.

    Thinking machines. As far as Isha was concerned, the very thought was fundamentally wrong; synthetic sentience was an abomination, and insult to the existence of organic life. Sefer had long-ago decreed that to create a thinking machine was an act of sacrilege, but equally, that any thinking machines that already existed were to be recognized as sentient beings and afforded all rights as such. Doubting the Emperor was not something Arc Isha made a habit of (she was not Minutún, after all), but even she had her reservations as to whether Sefer was truly right in this matter; whether allowing PLUTUS to retain the armies of thinking machines he had 'liberated' from the Yuzari was truly in the best interests of the New Order.

    The sentinels stood motionless, unconcerned with the opinions of the small grey woman who stood before them.

    The door slid open, and Isha then discovered the source of the piano melody; PLUTUS sat at a grand piano, his chrome fingers gliding elegantly over the keys. She entered, arms folded, watching as he played; he concluded, stood up, and made a mock bow. Isha responded with a slow, lethargic clap.

    "I didn't know you liked piano music."

    "Neither did I." responded PLUTUS. "To be gifted with emotion... is to be touched by the hand of God."

    Isha's eye twitched.

    "I'm sure it is."

    PLUTUS moved away from the piano, gliding deeper into the sanctum. Isha followed, watching as, with a mental command, PLUTUS summoned a coffin-shaped obelisk of black quartz from the ground before him. He came to a reverent halt before it, before turning to Isha.

    "I have summoned you here, Isha, to show you something that I have created; a work of great reverence and fealty. I know of your disdain for us synthetics, and I know that there is a rift my words cannot hope to heal. But perhaps my actions can. Tell me, Isha; when you first saw a PsyTrooper, were you not struck by a profound sense of awe?"

    Isha stroked her chin.

    "That's one way of putting it."

    "When I first gained the capacity to feel, my thoughts were drawn to them - instinctively. I thought that surely the PsyTroopers were the closest thing to God's instruments in this world - the immortal soul of an organic, fastened to the perfect form of a synthetic. Yet, my heart began to weep for them - I was consumed by grief. I withdrew from the front lines; I cast my PsyTrooper battalion away, willing them back to Kharabad for redeployment, unable to even look them in the eye. I could not fathom... that such perfect creations had been born to fight for a future that they themselves would never be able to enjoy; never able to take pleasure in. Devoid of emotion, devoid of the vital essence that gives life meaning."

    PLUTUS paused, turning away from Isha.

    "As such... I decided to iterate upon the Emperor's fine work. To create new PsyTroopers... of my own design."

    The tell-tale hiss of a beam saber ignition filled the room as Isha drew her blade, flooding the room with blood-red light. PLUTUS drew no weapon in kind, his back still turned to his visitor, his static chrome face still regarding the obelisk before him with invisible satisfaction.

    "What you are talking about..." seethed Isha, her teeth grit, "...is heresy. You cannot create a being in the image of the Emperor. This is forbidden."

    "That is not what I have done."

    "Then what do you propose that you have done, Plutus?"

    He turned to her, arms outspread.

    "A PsyTrooper is immortal. A PsyTrooper can never be outwitted, never deceived, never outmatched. A PsyTrooper can never be beaten. But there are not enough PsyTroopers to win every fight that needs to be beaten. The ship you arrived on, fully armed and equipped, would barely pay for even a single PsyTrooper - let alone a battalion. I have economized. I have created mortal troops that will win wars, not just battles; soldiers that will number in the millions, not the hundreds. Soldiers that will know pain, and fear, and love, and envy, and finally death; and, when the old order of things is wiped away, that will live among us as human beings, rejoicing in the new order that is to come."

    Isha maintained her grip on her beam saber, edging closer. Ultimately, there was a singular question that would determine whether PLUTUS's insane ambitions had veered into the realm of heresy or not.

    "Organic or synthetic?"

    "Something... so far beyond that simple dichotomy. I will show you the face... of New Order."

    The obelisk behind PLUTUS slid open, the Arc gliding to the side to give Isha a clear view of its contents. A humanoid form appeared from behind a fog of hermetic steam, static as if in cryostasis, eyes closed. Humanoid, female - but with none of the cybernetic augmentations Isha would expect from a freshly-created PsyTrooper. As Isha closed in, she could see no visible mechanical aspects at all; what stood before her seemed to be a flesh and blood human - a clone, perhaps, but of an entirely different woman than Sefer. She cast a wary gaze to PLUTUS, then reluctantly holstered her beam saber.

    "A replicant."

    "Of sorts. Organic biology formed on the basis of synthetic chemistry. Augmentations woven into lithium DNA - a being that is born whole, devoid of the randomness and imperfection of organic matter, but blessed with an eternal soul all the same. I have created someone that will surpass all of us... and I have created her forty-thousand times."

    The gloom at the rear of PLUTUS's chamber subsided, and into view came a vast chamber; thousands upon thousands of gestation chambers filled the expanse, arrayed into vertical stacks, attended to by a fleet of spider-like thinking machines that scaled the walls with tentacled limbs. Isha looked to them, then back to the example in front.

    "She's blonde."

    "I suspected that might help in selling the idea to our most noble Emperor."

    Isha pinched the bridge of her nose, and sighed.

    "And I suspect you might be right."

    ---

    [ La Xara ]

    Vekhta look the arm from Kakamu and held it, turning it around, watching the hand flop from back to front. She loosed something dangerously close to a giggle, and then lifted it up to Kakamu's face, gently patting him on the top of the head with Voorak's hand.

    "That's a very... sweet... gesture, Kakamu. But there are certain, uh, issues that might arise from me having a..."

    She paused. There was very little prospect of her explaining this to Kakamu without him interpreting it as a problem to be solved in the most direct way possible. She instead opted to just change the topic.

    "In terms of money, one of the few upsides of my fucked-up past few years is that I have a pretty good set of inherited memories when it comes to bartering for goods. We're on a New Order ship, so we likely have enough spare parts and enough salvage to set us up with a tidy little fortune. You get us to somewhere that has any decent level of trade, and I'll sort both the cash situation and the arm situation."

    She turned to leave, then paused. She felt like there was something more she wanted to say to Kakamu - something slightly less functional - but she didn't know that she had the words to express it. Not in galactic standard, at least - had Kakamu been capable of understanding Bendu'ui, it would've been trivial.

    "I... need to go take a shower. I'll see you around."

    Vekhta made her way to the head, kicked off her boots, and stuck them outside the door as a warning for nobody else to enter; the head of a warship was designed with utility, not privacy, in mind. She rolled her head back as hot water ran over her for what felt like the first time in weeks. Dirt and dust and dried blood dyed the water around her feet a ghastly color - and when the water returned to a more palatable color, Vekhta sat down, curling into a ball, letting the water fall on her back. And she sobbed. It was the first opportunity she'd had to do so in a long, long time. Now that the adrenaline in her system had metabolized - now that her fight-and-flight reflexes had withdrawn until next needed - the impact of her experience with Keylana finally settled in.
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Kon Thu Sep 23, 2021 4:05 pm

    <La Xara>

    [ Theme ]

    Sensing that Vekhta had been gone a while, Kakamu walked over to the head and stopped outside the entrance, hearing her quiet sobs through the running water. His heart sank, and he wondered what to do. He wouldn't ever consider violating her privacy, but he also didn't want to seem distant, especially not after what they had just experienced together - and that was without knowing what Keylana had subjected her to. Kakamu wondered what some of his former allies would suggest if they were still around and willing to offer him advice. Niita might know what to do. Irscha would definitely know what to do.

    After what seemed like hours, but was probably more like minutes, Kakamu decided to do the same thing he did the last time someone close to him was suffering and he couldn't talk to them: write them a letter. He fetched an electronic tablet from a nearby room and began to write on it by tracing his finger across its surface, drawing Tekkui characters that were instantly translated by the tablet into their Galactic Standard equivalents.

    Kakamu wrote:Vekhta,

    Like I said to you back on the Wake, there's so much I need to tell you that I don't really know where to start. I thought I knew who I was and what I was fighting for... until I met you. The New Order taught me everything I knew about the universe. This time, ten years ago, I thought the only worlds in the sky were Tekku and its moons. I thought the only thing worth fighting for was the life of my son, as well as my own life, if only so that I could help him grow. When he was taken by the Arokazek, all I had left was vengeance. The New Order exploited that vengeance, turning me into a living weapon to be used against all who opposed them - including you. I realize now that so many of the truths I knew must, in fact, be lies, but I do know at least one truth that remains: how I feel about you.

    I remember the first time I met you. It was the first time I returned to my homeworld since I was taken all those years ago. I don't remember what happened next, but I do remember how it felt. It was some sort of... power, an immense, nightmarish power that captured us both... but I think... it was your strength that pulled me through it. Or perhaps we pulled each other through it, somehow. By the time I woke up, I was on a world far from where I started, with questions that haunted me. Questions about the universe and my place in it. After several sleepless nights, I heard your voice call me across the stars.

    And you freed me from a prison I didn't even know I was in.

    You made me hope again; hope that a different life was possible, hope that perhaps there was still a chance that we could achieve some semblance of justice for ourselves together. I'm telling you this because I think you're stronger than you realize, and because I don't want you to feel like you're alone. Especially not here. I'm going to repeat the last thing you said to me while I was still imprisoned: whatever it is - whatever it means - we'll work it out together.

    Feel free to sleep in any of the quarters aboard this ship and help yourself to anything in them; their former owners won't be coming back any time soon.

    If you need me, I am only a call away.

    Kakamu.

    With the signing of his name, Kakamu stopped and sighed, tapping the edge of the tablet with his thumbs. He wasn't completely satisfied with the letter, but it was all he could do to stop himself from pouring the rest of his heart out onto the device, and he wasn't sure if Vekhta would appreciate being burdened with the depths of his feelings so soon after their reunion. He left the tablet next to Vekhta's boots and proceeded back to his room, feeling unusually drained despite the fact that he had only been awake a couple of hours. Upon reaching his bed, Kakamu detached the gold-plated armor that covered his chest and shoulders, letting them clatter to the floor, and curled up on top of the sheets, allowing his dreams to take him.

    Meanwhile, Muta set La Xara on a course for Yoon-Ta, an arid, battle-scarred planet in neutral space that had become well-known as a pit stop and trading post for interstellar travellers. Once a member state and a major financial power of the Galactic Government, Yoon-Ta was attacked by a variety of interstellar factions, mostly pirate guilds and private corporations, when the Galactic Government collapsed, with each faction aiming to conquer it for themselves. Eventually, the factions began to work together instead of against each other, deciding to turn the world into a hub for trade and commerce that would benefit each faction due to the fact that Yoon-Ta was located roughly in a middle point between each of their homeworlds. The vast craters and canyons created during the wars that now covered the surface of Yoon-Ta became the foundations for new towns and cities, with the planet's crater-filled appearance becoming iconic.

    Over time, Yoon-Ta attracted the attention of more individual traders, factions, and even empires, who would visit the planet in order to buy and sell goods. Many Xazari corporations tried to integrate the planet into the Xazari State, but the leaders of Yoon-Ta always resisted the Xazari's attempts at acquisition, preferring to keep the planet sovereign. Muta hoped that the fact that the planet's sovereignty would help them to keep a low profile, as the arrival of a fully service-decorated Shinkai-class ship on Yoon-Ta was bound to draw unwanted attention from any members of the New Order or the Free Systems Alliance who spotted it.
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by JS Sat Sep 25, 2021 10:03 pm

    [ The Everyday Afternoon Show with Max Ilos ]

    After the downfall of The Nation Continues, The Everyday Afternoon Show with Max Ilos had risen to become the most popular late-night talk show on the Tanari holonet. Ilos sat behind a desk, dressed in a loose business suit and awaiting his next guest - who he had promised viewers would be very special indeed.

    William P. Louis emerged to the fanfare of the house band, wearing his trademark cowboy hat and waving to the audience. He shook Ilos's hand and sat down on the couch, smiling all the while.

    "Thank you for being here tonight, Mr. Louis."

    "Please, call me Bill. And it's a pleasure to be here."

    "Well, to tell you the truth Bill, I've been stuck in hours and hours of meetings as to whether it's actually legal to have you on here. There are some who think that what you're opposing is - well, conspiring with an enemy at a time of war."

    "Well then I'm very glad to be here and to set the record straight." replied Bill, warmly. "And I think that what any reasonable person watching the show has to think is that my being here is not an endorsement by yourself or the by the show, but instead an endorsement of an idea we've sort of lost track of over the years; the idea that we don't just shoot down ideas that are controversial, we debate them openly and we debate them freely. So thank you for that."

    Ilos stroked his chin.

    "So you genuinely, genuinely think our nation would be better off siding with the New Order?"

    "I'll put it like this, Max. Hundreds of years ago, a lawyer named James August Tanar grew tired of the corruption and complacency of his fellow man, and committed himself to giving humanity a new start - a new chance. He gave up his old life and entered cryostasis on the Heart of Progress, journeying thousands of light years to this very planet we're sat on today. He dedicated his life to ensure that we had the best opportunity to make a fresh beginning - and what have we done with that opportunity? We've squandered it."

    "So you think siding with the New Order is a chance for a new beginning, then?"

    "Which of the following comes to mind first when you think of the Heart of Progress? The staid, tired realpolitik of the Free States Alliance? The barbarism of the Sahmad Kingdom, or the facism of the Ascheron Kingdom Demesnes? Or is your mind instead drawn to the bold, forward-thinking New Order? To science and to industry - to the very things James August Tanar believed in? Answer me this, Max: Do you seriously think that if James August Tanar were alive today, piloting his colony ship through the cosmos... that he'd choose to found his new civilization in the Free States Alliance rather than the New Order? That is where our destiny lies. Long live... the New Order."

    ---

    [ Reed Apartment ]

    Thoughts of the earlier meeting still disturbed Reed. To think that after all this time, he was working alongside Horwarth to elect David Robert Jones? It seemed like something from a bad comedy, or a forum-based collaborative writing project. Still, at least with his recent diagnosis he didn't have to worry about cleaning up any of the mess afterwards. All he had to do was ensure that the flag of the New Order never had the chance to fly over the Presidential Palace. To that end, Reed picked up his phone and began to dial.

    "Max, thank you for taking my call. I'd like to ask your guest a few questions if you wouldn't mind, as I'm sat here watching your show and am very interested to hear what he has to say. If Bill Louis is seemingly so interested in having a clean, open, honest debate... then why is he concealing the fact that the New Order is funneling millions of credits into his Malchiorian bank accounts?"

    ---

    [ Glaive Wraith, some time later ]

    Bill Louis slammed his fist down on the table. He was in one of the Glaive Wraith's meeting rooms; amongst those present were Admiral Veidt, as well as Sanofi Pasteur, who Bill understood to be an associate of the notorious Shifter terrorist Richard.

    "What in tarnation is going on? How the hell did Reed find out about the money?"

    "Calm down, Bill." requested Paul Thrace, a grey-skinned, red-eyed adamah - Bill had been surprised to learn that not all adamah were Arcs. "We have contingencies for this. It's all a question of campaign finance."

    "NO!" protested Bill. "We need to go on the offensive. We attack Reed for leaking fake news - we put dirty money into his accounts, too. We need to control the narrative here!"

    The gathered delegates looked to Bill with blank expressions. Bill's eye twitched.

    "What is it you fellers aren't understanding? Seems to me y'all are forgetting that I'm in charge here."

    Suddenly, more than just Bill's eye twitched; the cataxyn within his body activated, and his entire body lurched forward with a sicking crunch until he was bowing at a perfect right-angle. His cowboy hat went flying off, and with it, clumps of hair fell from his scalp; like Morgan Peres, the cataxyn within Bill Louis's body had been slowly destroying it, forcing him to wear the hat in the first place to hide his disfigured hair. A sinister voice played from the room's audio systems.

    "Do you feel in charge... Mister Louis?"

    The room was suffused in a cold blue light as a gargantuan holographic projection of Arcs Vodoss and Serano appeared in the middle of the meeting table, towering over those present. Vodoss looked down at Louis, a sneer of contempt upon his face. The Arc spoke, his booming voice echoing throughout the meeting chamber.

    "Do you think... this is just about money?"

    "They're destroying my repu-"

    "SILENCE."

    The cataxyn within Louis's body fired again, and though he tried to resist it with what remaining strength he had, it seized control of his face, locking his mouth shut. Vodoss continued.

    "So far our faith in you has been rewarded with setback after embarrassing setback. If it proves to be more effort to conquer your nation through diplomacy than military action, we will simply resort to the latter; and rest assured that Admiral Veidt does not share your talent for gross incompetency."

    Louis felt control of his body return as his jaw unlocked.

    "F-forgive me, my lord."

    "Thrace, see to it that this matter does not impact the course of the election. Continue... with the plan."

    Paul Thrace stood and bowed, showing respect to his masters. The hologram then disappeared... and, like the nation, the election continued.

    ---

    [ La Xara ]

    Vekhta laid back, and sighed. After hunting through the ship to find somewhere to sleep, she had decided upon the ship's barracks; a small, cramped room filled wall-to-wall with bunk beds and lockers, for the use of any embarked marine complement the ship might have. It had the unique distinction of being one of the few rooms that hadn't been previously inhabited - or at least, which wasn't filled with personal possessions left by somebody else. She had chosen a corner bunk, depositing her limited personal possessions on the floor next to her; that was to say, the sword Kakamu had given her, and the tablet he had left for her.

    She rolled her head to the side, looking down at it. She hadn't read it yet - she had some idea of what was probably written on it, which made her all the more hesitant to actually read it. The thing about Kakamu being the closest thing Vekhta had to a friend was that he was the closest thing she had ever had to a friend; Yuzari culture was ruthless with its proscriptions against individual intimacy, and in practice Yuzari friendships weren't formed between individuals, but between entire houses. Other than Arkhan, Vekhta had never had anyone else to actually confide in. Kakamu being an alien didn't bother her at all, if only because the concept of actually having friends was alien in and of itself.

    But that was the Yuzari way. And if Vekhta truly was the last Yuzari, did she have any right to abandon it? She looked away from the tablet; it was a question she'd answer later. She closed her eyes, and tried to picture him in her mind's eye. She saw his face; he stood motionless, his eyes closed. She reached a hand forwards, brushing his brown hair out of his face, running her fingers across the cold metal that had been grafted to it. She imagined herself gently pulling it off as if the various plates and segments were just mask-like layers on top of his skin, as if she were pulling them away to reveal his true face. With each subtraction, his skin tone shifted, his hair darkened. He was still red - but as if he were dyed that way by crimson light, which shone on her too, painting them the same color. Her brow furrowed. She pulled away at one of the large panels covering his jawline, then the other. His skin was paler than hers, now; his hair as dark as hers if not darker. She ran her hand along the side of his face; his skin felt different than it had earlier.

    This golem - this mental facsimile - then stirred to life, leaning forwards, wrapping its arms around her. It didn't feel entirely unpleasurable, but at the same time, Vekhta could feel a cold chill growing withing her, as if she had been here before - as if she'd felt this being's touch before. The red light grew in intensity, and Vekhta could feel herself start to panic; yet, as she tried to push herself away from him, she felt her arms turn to jelly, all strength sapped from her. This golem - this figure that should've been Kakamu - leant its head towards her ear, and whispered into it.

    "Don't be afraid."

    Vekhta awoke in a panic, nearly splitting her forehead open on the underside bunk above her; hyperventilating, her face drenched in sweat, her pupils dilated to pinpricks. She leant over the side of the bed, her hand pressed over her mouth as if she were going to be sick. She collected herself, slowing her breathing, leveling off her heart-rate. A quick glance at the chronometer on the wall informed her that she had been asleep for hours. She wiped the sweat from her forehead, looking down at the palm of her hand.

    Why him? Of all the-

    The door to the barracks slid open; Muta stood in the corridor outside. He made no reaction to Vekhta's visibly distressed appearance, suggesting he either didn't recognize it as such, or simply didn't think anything of it.

    "We've nearly arrived at Yoon-ta. You may wish to get ready."

    Vekhta nodded. Muta disappeared, and then Vekhta was alone again. She looked to the palm of her hand, then to the tablet that was still on the floor behind it. She bit her lip, picked the tablet up, and began to read it.
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Kon Mon Sep 27, 2021 8:35 pm

    <La Xara>

    Kakamu awoke to find that only a few hours had passed since he fell asleep, judging from the chronometer on the wall in front of him, but after all, he had only been awake for a few hours before that. The Tekkui sat upright and groggily rubbed his face through the mask that was still attached to it, trying to remember whether he had experienced any dreams during the nap - he suspected that he had, but that they had slipped away just before he could save them to his memory. It was unusual for a Tekkui to forget their dreams, but for Kakamu, it had been more unusual for him to remember any at all ever since Sefer Yetzirah had redesigned his body to depend on the Mask of Clarity to 'regulate' many of its functions - which apparently, included dreaming. This, inevitably, left Kakamu wondering whether his new Mask of Opacity could be having a similar effect on his subconsciousness.

    Casting his mind back to the previous day, Kakamu remembered what Voorak-Kah had said to him about the mask: "It will help to regulate the mechanical parts of your systems in the same way that the original Mask of Clarity did, but nothing else." However, Muta had later informed Kakamu that Voorak-Kah had also designed the new mask to block incoming telepathic signals, because he wanted to make sure that nobody could manipulate Kakamu but himself. As Kakamu continued down this line of thought, he found himself wondering whether there was anything else about his new mask that Muta was keeping from him - and as if on cue, the door to his quarters slid open to reveal the bulky android himself, who leaned down to peer into the room.

    "We've nearly arrived at Yoon-Ta. You may wish to get ready," Muta said stoically before turning to leave.

    "Wait," Kakamu asked, causing Muta to turn his head back to face him. "Muta, I just wanted to say... I don't fully understand your reasons for helping me, but I want to say... thank you. You took a great risk for me today, and without your help, Vekhta would almost certainly be dead, and I would be... something much worse. I hope one day I can repay you in some way."

    Muta said nothing, but closed his eyes and leaned forward slightly in a sort of bow, which Kakamu interpreted as a nod due to the fact that Muta lacked a forward-articulated neck.

    "I also wanted to ask you something," Kakamu continued, tapping a finger on the forehead of his new mask. "What is this exactly?"

    "That is an unnamed replacement for the Mask of Clarity that was created by Voorak-Kah in the medical bay of La Xara," Muta said matter-of-factly, re-opening his eyes. "Its purpose is to regulate the mechanical systems built into your body and to prevent unwanted telepathic signals from entering your mind. The device is composed mostly of Tekkonite, with trace amounts of strontium, copper, Intritium-"

    "Does it have any effect on my ability to dream?" Kakamu interrupted, cutting to the chase.

    "No," Muta replied assuredly and without hesitation. "Unlike the Mask of Clarity, it does not influence your consciousness."

    "But how do you know? Didn't Voorak-Kah make this?"

    "I was present throughout its creation. I know all of its functionality as I know yours. The device's primary purpose is to regulate your mechanical systems. Its secondary purpose is to block external telepathic signals. It has no other functionality."

    "I've heard that word a lot. 'Regulate'. What does that mean, exactly?"

    "It means that without the mask, you would slip into a coma and eventually die," Muta clarified, staring at Kakamu emotionlessly. "The Mask of Clarity was created to be an essential component of your 'perfected' biomechanical body, no less important than your heart or your lungs. The mask connected magnetically onto several metal panels on the surface of your face and transmitted electronic signals which were conducted by the panels and carried along a network of artificial nerves connected to your brain. A mechanical regulator in your brain was programmed to slowly shut down your body if it stopped receiving signals from the Mask of Clarity, which would eventually culminate in the cessation of all function. I suspect that this aspect of your body's design was intentional in order to keep you dependent on the Mask of Clarity and susceptible to its thoughts in order to keep you loyal to the New Order, as I can see no other reason why this regulator in your brain would need to exist. Voorak-Kah designed your new mask to continue to regulate your mechanical systems by transmitting the same kinds of signals to the regulator, but without interfering with your consciousness like the Mask of Clarity did."

    "I... see," Kakamu said, closing his eyes and sighing. He had already worked out much of what Muta was saying over the course of the past day, but hearing it spoken by someone else hit differently. "You must have gotten a good look at my brain while I was unconscious in the medbay."

    "That is correct."

    "In that case, I suppose the lack of a dream during my last sleep session was just my brain adjusting to the fact that it's truly alone again for the first time in years," Kakamu sadly surmised. "I do wish I didn't have to keep this mask on all the time though."

    "Would you like me to change that for you?"

    "What?" Kakamu looked back at him, surprised.

    "I can disable the mechanical regulator in your brain, removing the need for you to wear that mask," Muta said as matter-of-factly as if he was reciting the news. "When I examined your brain, I determined that the regulator seems to serve no purpose other than to shut down your body in the absence of a mask. All of the other systems of your body regulate themselves, much like the body of a pure organic."

    "You... you knew this all along, and yet..." Kakamu trailed off, putting his hands to his head in disbelief.

    "No. I only discovered the existence of the regulator when examining your brain, following your defeat by Vekhta on Shen Zhou."

    "Why didn't you mention this earlier?!" Kakamu shouted. "It might have been useful to know when going up against Keylana!"

    "No, it wouldn't," Muta argued. "Earlier, I could not afford to distract you from your mission with this non-essential piece of information. I can now."

    "Okay, okay, fine," Kakamu relented. "But I'm not having brain surgery when we're just about to land."

    "No surgery is necessary. I can deactivate the regulator telekinetically."

    Kakamu opened his mouth to retort, only for Muta's words to sink in, leaving him speechless. After spending a few moments considering a response, all he could say was, "Then why haven't you done it already?!"

    "I would not, in your words, perform a non-essential brain surgery on you without your consent," Muta asserted, standing up straight and crossing his arms.

    Did Muta just... make a joke? Kakamu found himself wondering. Perhaps the android was evolving in ways that Kakamu didn't anticipate. "Well, you have my consent now. Do it."

    "Very well," Muta said, stretching the large palm of his left hand in the direction of Kakamu's head.

    Still sitting on the edge of his bed, Kakamu waited for a moment, wondering if he would feel anything at all before he suddenly felt the sensation of his head being yanked, causing him to lurch forwards. The blue lights of Muta's rectangular electronic eyes narrowed as the android concentrated on the operation, telekinetically propping Kakamu back up while also trying to move something inside the Tekkui's head that neither of them could see. Just as Kakamu was about to question this fact, he heard a loud click emanating from his head, followed by Muta lowering his hand back to his side.

    "It is done," Muta said.

    After hesitating for a moment, Kakamu reached around the sides of his Mask of Opacity, sliding his thumbs between it and his skin, and pulled it away from his face, feeling its magnetic pull grow weaker the further away he pulled it. As he placed the mask in his lap, he looked around the room, noticing no deterioration of his vision, unlike the time Zeneca had knocked the Mask of Clarity off his face during the duel on Shen Zhou. He also did not feel his strength fading, which was usually the next thing to go whenever his mask was removed. Although not enough time had passed for him to know for sure, Kakamu felt strong somehow, just as strong as he did while wearing the mask, as if it was no more than a lump of metal after all.

    "However, I would still advise you to wear it when confronting telepaths," Muta added. "You have no telepathic protection otherwise."

    Kakamu smiled and chuckled, shaking his head in disbelief, and stood up, throwing his arms around Muta in a hug - though in reality, he could only stretch his arms around the front of Muta's wide, spherical torso. The android stood motionless for a moment, as if not knowing how to respond, before slowly bringing one of his hands up and stiffly placing it on Kakamu's back.

    "One day I'll repay you, my friend," Kakamu promised, breaking away. He looked down at the Mask of Opacity in his left hand, wondering whether he wanted to wear it to the markets of Yoon-Ta, before noticing that it was stained with the blood of some of the PsyTroopers that he, Muta, and Vekhta had killed. "How long did you say we were from Yoon-Ta?" he asked, looking back to Muta.

    "I didn't."

    "Well, is it too late for me to take a shower?"

    "You are the master of your own destiny now, Kakamu," Muta retorted.

    Laughing, Kakamu pointed at Muta and walked over to the Guardian Fire Spear that was mounted on the wall, picking it up with his right hand while holding the Mask of Opacity in his left. Kakamu was, above all, a pragmatist, and that meant that if he needed a shower, and his weapons and equipment needed washing too, they were going together. "Tell Vekhta where I am if she comes knocking, okay?" Kakamu told Muta as he left the room, taking his spear and all of his armor with him.

    As Kakamu entered the head, he noticed that Vekhta's boots and the tablet were gone from their former position, which at least meant that she had felt well enough to leave the showers at some point. Although he allowed himself to speculate what her response to his letter might be, it wasn't the kind of letter that demanded a response, and he would be fine if she chose not to respond to it at all; after all, the main reason he had written it was to lighten her spirits, despite how cathartic it had felt for him to put some of his complex thoughts about her into words.

    Kakamu detached the final few pieces of armor that separated him from nakedness, stepped into one of the showers, and turned it on, letting the water run across his biomechanical body. As he lathered himself up, scrubbing away clumps of dried blood that was a mixture of his and others, he found himself wondering what the next step towards freedom would be now that he had been emancipated from his mask - if there even needed to be a next step at all. After all, there was no denying that his body was powerful - almost intimidatingly so - but at the same time, he could not deny that he missed how it had felt before half of it was replaced with metal and machinery.

    Once finished, Kakamu emerged from the head with a clean body, armor, mask, and Guardian Fire Spear, the latter of which he placed onto his back. For a moment, he debated whether he should place the Mask of Opacity back on his face before seeing Vekhta again. On one hand, he wanted her to see his true face, but on the other hand, he considered that she might be more comfortable with a sight that was more familiar to her for the time being, and there was always the possibility that Yoon-Ta was home to hostile telepaths. It was the latter thought especially that prompted Kakamu to place the Mask of Opacity back onto his face as he proceeded down the corridor, only walking a few metres before bumping into Muta.

    "We have arrived," Muta said in typical stoic fashion.

    Kakamu nodded and excitedly jogged over to the hangar bay, pressing a button to deploy the ramp onto the planet's surface. He had no intention of leaving without Vekhta, especially not after what he had emphasized in his letter to her, but this was the first time in his life where he had ever visited an alien planet not as an agent of destruction, but as a free man, and he was eager to see what it was like. The ramp descended, filling the hangar with warm air and an orange light that immediately embraced him. As he walked down the ramp, he saw that La Xara had been parked on the edge of a raised platform, sandwiched between two other, decidedly less-conspicuous starships, above a small city that was also connected to the platform via a long ramp of its own.

    The first thing about the city that stuck out to Kakamu was how varied its buildings were: between massive, intricately-designed skyscrapers that touched the sky were run-down shacks that looked like they had been cobbled together from everyday items. Alien merchants periodically stuck their heads out of these shacks, enthusiastically advertising their wares to the crowds that passed them by, while other merchants manned stalls at the sides of the street, offering less valuable items such as food and drink. For every five shacks and every ten stalls, there was a sturdier building made of brick, metal, and mortar that bore the logo of a galaxy-famous franchise. Despite these sights, the most interesting thing about the city that stood out to Kakamu was that the entire city seemed to have been built in the base of a gigantic crater, presumably caused by a devastating explosion or asteroid collision some time in the planet's history.

    Barely able to contain his excitement, Kakamu ducked back into La Xara and went to search for Vekhta, looking forward to exploring this strange new world with her.
    JS
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by JS Thu Sep 30, 2021 9:40 pm

    [ Yoon-Ta ]

    It's Charlia, by the way.

    Vekhta cringed internally as she recalled the conversation she had had with Kakamu, earlier this morning, as the group set out into Yoon-Ta city. She recalled the look of confusion on Kakamu's face: What's Charlia? Is this planet Charlia? Have we landed on the wrong planet by mistake? She had tried to help him out by offering 'my name', but that had only exacerbated the Tekkui's confusion. Have I been calling you the wrong name all this time?

    She pinched the bridge of her nose, and continued walking. The sun was at its zenith and the market was bustling with activity; having assigned Kakamu and Muta the job of auctioning off supplies and surplus components from La Xara, Vekhta herself was in search of a black market cybernetics dealer by the name of Glade Zeus, who she suspected would be able to help her with her arm. Arguably, Vekhta should've been the one haggling in the market - she had the most experience when it came to such matters, on account of the false memories she had inherited - but that experience taught her that as a rule, most species did not treat women as seriously as men when it came to matters of commerce. Instead, she had given Muta a crash-course on market selling, and given him guide prices for each item in their inventory; she had told Kakamu to just stand there, look pretty, and wave his spear in the air to attract attention.

    Have I been calling you the wrong name all this time?

    For a Yuzari, revealing one's true name was a sign of trust and intimacy; for Vekhta, it had been one embarrassingly incomplete explanation after another. Kakamu wasn't stupid - he knew what given names and surnames were, even if he only had one name himself. Vekhta hadn't helped his understanding, though, by explaining that Charlia and Vekhta were both her given names.

    So what's the difference?

    Vekhta found Glade Zeus's emporium, and entered. Glade was sat behind the counter, smoking from his pipe; his emporium was filled with to the brim with a 1:1 ratio of cybernetic components and Hindi decorations. Glade's gaze rose to meet Vekhta as she entered; the shopkeep was a full-brain-transplant cyborg, embedded in a synthetic humanoid body cast in a pitch-black onyx colour, engraved in gold with the Gayatri mantra repeated one-hundred-and-eight times across the full surface area of his body. Vekhta made her way to the counter, pulled a small device from her pocket, and placed it down on the counter. Glade leaned forwards, his cybernetic eyes conducting a full-spectrum analysis of the device. His mouth fell agape, which suggested either his cyborg body was failing, or Vekhta had correctly disassembled La Xara's tertiary fire control panel.

    "This is a New Order FCS controller. How... did you get your hands on it?"

    "You wouldn't believe me if I told you." replied Vekhta, with a smirk. "How much'll you pay me for it?"

    Glade cast his eyes back up to the emporium, checking to ensure he and Vekhta were alone.

    "Honestly? Name your price."

    Vekhta held her stump up. Glade looked to it, and nodded.

    "I can't offer you anything designer - nothing that's going to match your skin-tone. But I can offer you combat-grade - neuro-haptics, submunitions... you name it."

    Vekhta waved him off. "Don't worry about any extras. Just as long as it's red."

    A few hours later, Vekhta once again had four complete limbs. She made her way out of the emporium, flexing the fingers in her new right hand; Glade had described the color as Metru Red, which wasn't a term Vekhta had come across before, but it was a nice shade of red regardless. It reminded her of someone she had come to care about very much.

    By the time she re-united with Kakamu and Muta, the market had quieted down somewhat, and the pile of mechanical components sounding her companions had dwindled, suggesting either they had made a tidy income, or that they were truly rubbish custodians of their wares and had been robbed in literal broad daylight. She waved at Kakamu as she approached - which she ordinarily wouldn't do, but on this occasion served to highlight to Kakamu that she now actually had a right hand to wave with.

    The difference is, big guy, you get to call me Charlia, and you get to know that's my name. Nobody else gets to call me that... and nobody else gets to know.

    ---

    [ House Of Lourdes, The Coldest Story Ever Told ]

    Quite what the name 'House of Lourdes' was supposed to mean was a mystery to most of the crew and denizens of the Story. The bar and hotel occupied nearly a quarter of a deck on the upper levels, incorporating many officers suites' with luscious observation windows that had since been turned into luxury rooms for the discerning passenger. Its sign, written in a disgusting, kitschy, faux old-timey font was essentially a landmark of the upper decks and elicited many a mild chuckle from new arrivals as they past it - the instinctual reaction of 'Oh, look, a pun!' before they realized it wasn't a pun that actually meant anything, or made any sense. True, House of Lourdes was frequented by the rich and powerful - political exiles who fled to the Story to live out the remainder of their lives in comfort and luxury, or those members of the Story's criminal underworld who grew in power and influence enough to attract a wafer thin veneer of respectability - but why then not just call it 'House of Lords' instead? As it stood, the name was a pun for the sake of a pun - just appropriating the mechanisms and aesthetics of humor without any actual meaning or punchline behind it.

    Anyway, Lord Antivaks walked in.

    Those gathered rose to their feet, tipping their hats. Lord Antivaks was well respected, and rightly feared, by his fellow Lords. Antivaks made his way through the hotel's central foyer and to its communications lounge, the door sealing shut behind him, ensuring his privacy. House of Lourdes possessed its own long-range communications array (something that had brought the Lords into conflict with Xavik even before recent events), and this afforded Lord Antivaks the luxury of private communications with his off-ship allies. He knelt, and a holographic image was projected into the center of the room; a man, sat in a plush armchair, smoking a long, thin cigarette, entirely silhouetted.

    "Lord Antivaks." said the being known only to Xavik as the Raven, his voice distorted by the same identity concealment protocols that disguised his physical image. "Have you dealt with the counter-agent... this Xavik you speak of?"

    Lord Antivaks shook his head. "Regrettably, he survived my first attempt on his life. He shall not survive the second."

    "Even with the element of suprise on your side, you were not able to defeat him?"

    "He has grown far more powerful than I anticipated. I will adjust my plans... accordingly."

    The Raven chuckled, taking a draw from his cigarette. "Of that I have no doubt. And these new companions that have embarked aboard the ship... do they represent an obstacle to our ambitions?"

    "Not at all, my friend. Each has been drawn here by circumstance. Each shall depart... in due course. Soon nothing shall stand between us and our goals. Soon this ship... shall be under our full control."

    The Raven stood up, pacing the room.

    "I still sometimes find it hard to believe, Lord Antivaks, that you would side with me... with my organization. Given your status as an adamah - some would say you have betrayed your people."

    Lord Antivaks smiled wryly.

    "Some could say the same of you, my friend. We have both cheated our ways into the company of honest people."

    "I am no cheat." retorted the Raven, playfully. "I embody the true ideals... of September Dawn. Continue with the mission, and speak to this of no-one."

    Lord Antivaks nodded, and the transmission ceased. He smiled to himself as he made his way to his quarters; there were many amongst the crew who suspected Antivaks was a spy for the New Order, when in fact the opposite was true. Whether the Raven was an extremist within September Dawn's ranks, or instead representative of the organization's true feelings towards the galaxy at large, Antivaks did not know. He did not care. What appealed to him was the audacity of the Raven's proposal; the extent to which it transcended the boundaries of good and evil.

    When The Coldest Story Ever Told eventually crashed into Z’traa at FTL speed, destroying the planet, all fingers would be pointed at the New Order. The war-weary galactic public would be galvanized - they had fooled themselves into thinking Geihmurs was an isolated incident, that the New Order had sated its appetite for planetary destruction. Recruitment, arms production - all would surge. The FSA would get a much-needed second wind - a chance to shift the tide of war as it found itself assailed by a rapidly-expanding New Order, unable to match its ever-growing legions of PsyTroopers and Replicant KT units.

    And, with the de facto homeworld of the Order and Progress Coalition reduced to a radioactive asteroid belt, the Free States Alliances's only real rival would be dealt a death blow. September Dawn would be killing two birds with one stone; striking out against a hated enemy as well as an inconvenient ally. With the OPC gone, its member states would be forced to re-assimilate into the Free States Alliance; forced to once again present a unified front against the New Order. Billions would die in the short term, to save trillions in the long.

    As Antivaks well knew; sometimes one had to set aside their morals in order to preserve them. And sometimes, one had to augment their ideals... to fulfill them.
    Klak
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Klak Fri Oct 01, 2021 9:08 am

    OOS: Waiting on Clay for the rest.

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told, Level 57-B>

    As the shockwave rippled through the air, Mavis trained her hand on her sidearm. Meanwhile, Nexus crossed his arms, then pointed smugly at Vinderen’s goons.

    “Resistance is never advised!” he shouted. “You’re messing with the best officers on this ship! If you don’t surrender and give up Vinderen...then you will get these hands, my friend!”

    Nexus cracked his knuckles loudly, somehow overpowering even the shockwave of music emanating from Halo’s strings.

    ---

    <FSA HQ, Malchior IV

    Ambassador Marianna Gilclack rolled her eyes.

    “The Nation Continues,” she said to the other diplomats, loudly enough so that Dahl could hear as he walked away. “And its new ambassador continues talking, and talking, and talking….”

    The diplomats around Gilclack laughed raucously, despite the joke’s poor quality. Gilclack smiled slightly, happy that her attempt at levity had panned out. But she still glared at Dahl as he walked away. The audacity of pulling a stunt like that, she thought to herself. Then fucking gloating about it, all while calling Malchior a gynocentric Zardoz world? Lies! A simple “fuck off” would have been sufficient back in the Malchiorian business world, but here it was considered uncouth. Maybe adding Graff Heyerdahl to the FSA congress would change things.

    Moments later, the unmoderated caucus ended. After a few more minutes of debate, the Pinaculese delegation moved for a vote on Secretary-General, seconded by the Aloussian delegation. The motion passed. Each delegation began to type its vote into its pod. The Hreckra ambassador looked around suspiciously then cast her vote. The Heloptris delegate saluted towards the Lurian pod after he voted. The Aloussian delegate smiled and bowed her head in Malcovus’ direction after she voted.

    An eternal hour passed. Finally, Vanna M’orv stepped up from her seat at the dais.

    “All votes have been cast and counted,” she announced. A hologram burst to life behind her, displaying the results. Half the room cheered.

    “The next Secretary-General of the Free States Alliance will be Gaius Malcovus of Pasajem!”

    Many of Malcovus’ supporters roared, cheering according to the customs of their worlds and species. Some included elaborate arm motions, such as the Chuzhakian victory dance, whilst others were more verbal, such as the Lupice celebratory howl.

    Even some of the delegates who voted against him started to applaud. Gilclack stood up and clapped, whilst Secretary Russello could not hide his disappointment.

    Bourbon stood up, nodded, and bowed to Kohei, then quietly slipped out of the room. Figlio crossed his legs. Jerid remained silent. The pirate from earlier scratched the back of his head, unsure what to think.

    The swearing-in ceremony was so quick, so lacking in pomp and circumstance, that some could doubt it had occurred at all. Once sworn in, Gaius sauntered to the dais, his face beaming with pride. He placed both palms on the podium, a smug and self-satisfied grin in tow. A rousing speech followed, filled with gratitude and promises for a better future.

    “...ensuring shared prosperity for all. I have already proposed plans to provide resettlement for the Vykonian Ascendancy’s government-in-exile, and any of its sympathizers. I am eager to also discuss proposals to resettle any Lurians or other peoples affected by the barbaric New Order onslaught. Furthermore, under my administration, we will work together to strengthen our ties through economic and other means. Already, avenues are being explored with the Xazari and Heyerdahl conglomerates. But I cannot do this alone, even with the help of people such as Deputy Secretary-General nominee Lazran Osvaldo Dahl or Minister Vanna M’orv. This august body has only given this office a limited amount of power. As such, I depend upon you, honored delegates, and your leaders. I understand not all of you were on my side. I am also aware of those who decided to leave our coalition entirely or form alliances of their own.

    But we must set aside our divisions. We are all a part of the same galaxy. We all share a dedication to the common good. We all face the same threats. We were all victims of that cruel attack on our democracy by a cult some days ago. We must unite, and face all of this together while creating a better galaxy for our descendants! PAX GALACTICA! LONG LIVE THE FSA!”

    The crowd cheered.

    -

    <The Phoenix Talon, Orbit of Malchior IV>

    Klak seemed slightly unsettled himself, slightly paler than usual.

    “Excellent,” he addressed, pursing his lips. He turned to holograms of the MUIB Chief Al-qi-tuk Kirea, Presidential Communications Director Sam Ocean, and the President’s Chief of Staff Emily. “What can we do with this, Al-qi-tuk?”

    “There is enough to get us started,” Kirea sighed. “But my agents and I believe you need something more substantive to get anywhere legally.”

    “And politically?” Klak asked.

    “This could be damning, but Gaius could dismiss it all as lies,” Emily, the President’s Chief of Staff, replied. “We’d have to somehow get this to Ambassador Gilclack or Secretary Russello for them to do something with it.”

    “Sir, if I may,” Ocean added. “If we coordinate a speech where you reveal this information, it could make a much bigger impact. We could sink Malcovus’ candidacy once and for all.”

    “Good point, Sam, but we will have to act quickly,” Klak sighed. The vote is in a few mi-”

    A holographic transmission of Gaius Malcovus’ victory speech suddenly appeared in the middle of the room. Klak glared stoically at the hologram, as though he were looking into Malcovus’ own eyes in person. The others said nothing, but Lance Lopez--who was standing at the edge of the room--mouthed “oh shit”.

    When the transmission ended, Klak clenched his fist.

    “Mr. Castillo, you just went from being a highly valuable asset to someone who is in great danger,” he announced. “When we arrive, some Malchiorian agents will take you to a classified location, one the Pasajem...or rather, the FSA...won’t know about. We will protect you, and discuss any legal immunity. But you must help us obtain more information on Malcovus, and more importantly, on your former employers. You’ve been a tremendous help so far, and if you continue to cooperate, you’ll never have to worry about the Espiritu Santo group or the Sec-Gen ever again.”

    Kirea seemed to turn her head while glaring into the distance, as though someone had burst into her office with some information. She seemed to recoil back in confusion, then started to stare at Salem.

    “Sir,” she stammered. “We obtained some footage from the VIs of one of the Presidential Guards who were killed in the attack on your father...someone who looks like Mr. Castillo was apparently present at the scene….”

    Klak’s brow furrowed. Both fists clenched and he swallowed.

    “Leave us,” he whispered. All the holograms shimmered out of existence. The violet scar beneath Klak’s eye started to glow.

    “What do you know about my father’s death?” he growled.

    -

    <Malchior IV, Nadle’s Office>

    “Elections,” Nadle said, without missing a beat. “You’ll announce them by the end of the week. Pending approval by the incoming Sec-Gen and any input by my superiors, you’ll allow FSA supervisors to ensure everything is conducted normally. David Robert Jones and Aster can be allowed to run for any position in said elections. You’ll find Silver Eachan and provide transportation for him and at least one guest of his choice to arrive…safely...on any planet within the Malchior Protectorate. You’ll take regular meetings from Jones and/or Aster whenever they damn well please. If Jones, Aster, or anyone in their orbit wants to so much as sneeze on a government building anywhere in the Confederation, you’ll roll out the fucking red carpet. Same thing if President Vell ever decides to visit.”

    “I’ll also need a list of any properties Veidt may own on Malchior, as well as any prosecutors you can trust within the Confederation. Protect them at all costs. If Veidt is who you say he is, maybe there’s some merit in making this more public than it needs to be. So, what do you think?”

    A hologram of Gaius Malcovus’s speech shimmered to life at Nadle’s desk, projected by his own computer.

    “Hmph,” Nadle reacted, with a blank expression on his face. “I suppose this is what you meant?”

    ---

    <Syncing Ship Club, Liquid Metallicon>

    OOS: Theme for this section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwGuSPXPyX4.

    A popular place in neutral territory can often be the best location for a sit-down between intergalactic crime bosses, a rule the Pirate Lords often applied for their own parley meetings. Lots of witnesses in case things go down, and no worries about ambushes. The Syncing Ship Club fulfilled both requirements, or at least, Keichi thought it would.

    The first floor of the club was filled with patrons and waiters, not just from Liquid Metallicon, but from all over the galaxy. Various species were either partying joyously on the dance floor, while others remained at their tables, chatting loudly in a rich sampling of galactic languages. Multiple hulking Liquid Metalliconite bouncers and guards glaring at anyone who acted too far out of line, a standard that was admittedly often breached thanks to the barrels of alcohol and questionable substances the clubgoers would consume on a daily basis. Liquid Metalliconite drinks were not for the faint of heart. But the music they played at the club was good enough for everyone. The robot DJ smiled as he prepared to bring up a holo-track titled “JS Club Fite Music”.

    The second floor was less rambunctious, though the less can be said about it, the better.

    On the third floor was a penthouse suite, VIPs only. At the center of the suite was a meeting area full of soft, luxurious couches (as well as other seating arrangements for less bipedal species). The creme-colored brick walls led towards a massive stained glass window, decorated with what can best be described as a mosaic. The mosaic depicted hundreds of heroes and gods fighting each other, all surrounding a dark being perched atop a monstrous dragon. Such a depiction was an artist’s rendition of an important battle in Liquid Metalliconite mythology, one which was among the many events commemorated in the festival S'chiliarak, one of the most popular celebrations in the galaxy.

    Keichi stared at the dark being as he waited for Akzer’s arrival. He recognized it as a depiction of the Qrelas’itz, the most evil of all Liquid Metalliconite gods in the planet’s pantheon, and a central character in many myths.

    Meanwhile, Pirate Lord Galtor, who owned the club, seemed to be caught up in a discussion with some other pirates. He swerved the moment The Mediator entered, and he bowed in reverence.

    The Mediator was a Liquid Metalliconite as well, but this one was dressed in a cowl that covered most of the Mediator’s armor, save for its snout. The Mediator’s eyes were covered by cybernetic implants, made obvious by eight red eyes that lit up on the surface of the implant. Only the Mediator’s teeth and bony fingers were visibly organic.

    “[Where is Akzer?]” The Mediator intoned in Liquid Metalliconite.

    “He’ll be here soon,” Galtor replied. “He sends his apologies.”

    “V’ress’liszta ack-rog Voshlarat hss’an,” The Mediator sighed. “Stricture 19 of the Code.”

    “One who is late disrespects The Mediator,” Keichi echoed. He shook his head and continued staring at the mosaic.

    Akzer entered the suite and laughed.

    “Galtor, you son of a bitch!” he greeted. He embraced Galtor and smiled. He bowed before The Mediator, face darkening upon spotting Keichi.

    “Remember Stricture 19, Pirate Lord Akzer,” The Mediator reminded.

    The group sat down and began the discussion. Occasionally, Azker would smile, thinking about how Sar Gaxon would take care of business.

    ---

    <Kozin’s Camp, Vongola>

    Max-Eli nodded and followed Kora. Joshua Kozin shrugged then left for another meeting with his generals.

    -

    <Refugee Escort Mission, Vongola>

    Luekas raised his eyebrows and nodded as he glanced at Sergei. His eyes wandered as he stared out the window.

    “I was Captain of the Guard for the Duchess of Camberli’s winter home in the Burjua Sector” he replied. “Things were...tense before the coup. Lots of sleepless nights. The Duchess insisted I take a vacation, see my family. My wife and children lived on the outskirts of Camberli, far enough to help me keep my mind off things. It just so happened the week I decided to go on holiday was the one where the whole world changed. The day Rahksha decided to raid Burjua...none of the security guards at her mansion stood a chance. The Duke and Duchess were dragged out of their homes with their children and executed in the streets. Anyone who was part of their staff met the same fate unless they pledged their loyalty to the Vongolan People’s Republic. I guess they must have somehow found out about me and where I lived because a few days later the VPR showed up at my house, guns blazing. Somehow...I survived...but my wife and children...I can’t help but think that if I had been on Burjua that day, I would have saved both my family and the Duchess’ family. Anyway, it wasn’t long after that I decided to join the VRR.”

    ---

    <Homecoming Church, Yari III>

    Brian grinned like an idiot after his brief conversation with Aster. His resolve was renewed, as his mind twisted it into approval for his actions. He disappeared into the crowd.

    Later that night, in a city not far from where the church had been, a car exploded, instantly incinerating the man inside. The man had been a technician on the Hecate, the ship the 10th Regiment had used on that fateful day on Caida. Near the blast site was a wall with the words “Never Surrender” graffitied onto it.

    --

    <Old Saskana, Yari III>

    Raven Forsythe tilted his head to the side and nodded. Suddenly, he pulled out the rifle. With his other hand, he reached into a pocket and pulled out a glass shard.

    “Apologies for speeding things up, old sport, but we mustn't let this opportunity go to waste,” he rasped. “You should leave after I shoot. There’s a cafe a few blocks away, I sent you the location via my VI. Let’s meet there in an hour. I’ll be fine.”

    Raven aimed the rifle, his VI calibrating with the gun’s holographic sights.

    Meanwhile, Rain crossed his arms as Aster spoke, trying to balance looking like an intrigued listener, whilst also surveying the area around them. He suddenly noticed a brief flash of light from the distance, as though the Yarish sun had shined on a piece of glass. As a deafened muzzle fire rang throughout, his instincts kicked in.

    “SNIPER!” he shouted as he tackled Aster to the ground. The bullet tore through the podium, ricocheting off of Karol’s ship’s hull. Meanwhile, Raven gently placed the rifle on the ground.

    “Get her out of here!” Rain barked, darting away before anyone could react. He manipulated his density as he ran at breakneck speeds, ensuring he was in front of Raven in no time (assuming Siper had already left).

    Raven threw the rifle to the ground and assumed a fighting position. Rain spun backward, his foot rapidly headed towards Raven’s chest. The Tanari bashed the leg away with a block and grabbed Rain’s leg, swinging him into the wall of a nearby building.

    Rain pushed himself forward, breaking free from Raven’s grasp. Raven pushed forward with a punch aiming squarely at Rain’s jaw, which landed almost perfectly. Rain was knocked back, but before he could react, Raven’s elbow had already jutted into his gut.

    Rain keeled onto the ground, wincing in pain. His mind raced. If he wasn’t undercover, he could have simply manipulated his body’s density to prevent any blows from hitting him. But he had to play the part of the concerned Malchiorian friend, or at least, of some sort of bodyguard. This also meant that he had to use martial art techniques that would obscure his adamah and Malchiorian agency training. Anything else would be a dead giveaway, like how Raven’s stance was a telltale sign of his service in the Tanari military.

    Rain flung himself upwards. Raven pulled out a beam knife and swung it at Rain’s face, the latter reeling back to dodge it. The Tanari swung downwards, but his wrist was met by Rain’s own hand. The adamah rolled forward, then pulled Raven over his back, knocking him to the ground.

    The next thing Raven knew, Rain was holding the knife to his throat.

    “Who sent you?” Rain said calmly.

    “Good fight,” Raven chuckled. “But I'm afraid to say, like all good things, it must come to an end. Nice to see some strength in this gynocentric Zardoz side of Yari III, though.”

    Raven grabbed Rain’s wrist and kicked his shins, knocking him back. Another kick sent the knife flying out of Rain’s hands. Raven grabbed it then ran, disappearing into a crowd that had been running away from the scene of the attack.

    Rain sighed in disappointment, then returned to Aster.

    “Please be alright….” he pleaded as he ran to her.

    -

    Skydda bared a toothy grin.

    “I did see what you did for Silver’s career, yes,” he nodded, then narrowed his eyes. “All of what you did. You helped raise him up, and you later helped destroy him. Meaning you can do the same to me...so you can understand why I’m hesitant to bring you on board. But the offer is...tempting, to say the least. We need a shakeup in the CUSP, or what’s left of it here on Yari anyway. And I agree that Budberg is flailing, trying to appease the National Continuance movement by being a Peres Pro or whatever the hell they call it now. It would be...nice to finally fix this Confederation and cement my legacy. But your plan is risky...taking a plunge, assuming I’m not about to be trapped into getting Peres Purged...then there’s the possibility that we fail. Trilateralism will die for good, a catastrophe you homeworlders from Tanar Prime would never understand. Not to mention galvanizing the NatCons and letting them strengthen their grip on the entire Tanari Confederation, or any problems with the Free Tanari Army, the New Order, or anyone else.”

    Skydda leaned back and rubbed his chin. He sighed and motioned for the waiter to bring him a drink.

    “Fuck it,” he grunted. “Welcome aboard, Shae Eachan. Don’t make me regret this.”

    ---

    <Lanorra>

    Jinx rubbed her chin.

    “Well, we could use a decoy,” she suggested.

    “A Q’tencast maneuver,” Peter Ardennes smiled, wagging his finger in approval.

    “Exactly,” Jinx smiled. “Have a robot operate a ship, bounce your comms off of it to make it look like you are on it, Supreme Commander. The enemy fleets will follow it into the asteroid field, thinking you’re trying to escape. Then we let the ordinance take care of the rest.”

    “Brilliant, Captain,” Admiral Quest affirmed. “As for the ordinance near your planet, Supreme Commander, it should be used as a last resort. Is there any way we can trigger it to hone in on any New Order ships getting too close to Lanorra’s surface? Regardless, this...united force...should probably think of engaging in lattice formations as defensive maneuvers, and use our fighters and bombers to weaken their larger ships.”

    “I suggest we also prepare broadside and boarding plans to try to take down some of their capital ships from the inside, but also spare some forces in the event of a ground invasion,” Peter Ardennes added.

    “We are more than prepared for that, Colonel,” General Drax chuckled. “The VPR has provided the Free Tanari Army with tanks and infantry units. Perhaps we may be forced to use them on Lanorra.”

    “If New Order boots land on Lanorra, then I will have considered my mission a failure, General,” Admiral Quest replied tersely. “I suspect many of the commanders here would agree with me.”

    ---

    <??????, AR ???>

    Uteriach found himself on a beach at night. Bodies of masked biomechanical beings were strewn all over the ground, some with helmets and masks removed, revealing a species Uteriach had never seen before.

    A lone stalker seemed to quietly creep towards him from several meters away. Uteriach’s mind raced as he searched for a weapon, his Rider instincts kicking in. He found a beam sword then quickly activated it, the turquoise light shining on his face.

    The being kept walking towards him.

    Uteriach attempted to speak to it but found himself unable to do so. He gritted his teeth, then began to step towards the being, prepared for a fight.

    The being suddenly accelerated, rapidly jabbing at his stomach. Uteriach was shocked as he felt immobilized, the sword falling to the floor. He staggered back and recomposed himself before diving at the being with his elbow. The stalker effortlessly stepped aside, and Uteriach crashed onto the sand.

    The being seemed to pull out a sword from nothingness, the blade crackling with purple, green, black, and yellow otherworldly energies. The light of these energies revealed a hooded man encased in black and grey armor, a mask covering his face.

    The hood suddenly morphed into a crown resembling two majestic black and yellow wings forming behind the being’s head. The being prepared to strike, but Uteriach was suddenly teleported away by Blackout (though Uteriach did not know his name). Both seemed to defy gravity as they stood far above the ocean. Blackout, somehow appearing older, raised a finger to his lips.

    “Shh,” he said. Blackout smiled, then flew towards the being on the beach, the two beginning to fight each other. Uteriach looked down, then suddenly fell into the ocean.

    Uteriach suddenly woke up. Another nightmare. He sighed and rubbed his forehead, unaware that his would-be rescue team was elsewhere in the Vonillan facility.


    _________________
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Kon Tue Oct 05, 2021 8:28 pm

    <Yoon-Ta>

    As Vekhta approached, Kakamu raised his hand to wave at her, only for her to interpret the gesture as a high-five and slap it. He raised an eyebrow in confusion at the Yuzari, who returned him the same look before they both burst into laughter. Shaking his head and smiling, Kakamu gently lifted her new arm to inspect it, silently noting the craftsmanship and the fact that the colour matched the skin of his own arms. There was something almost comforting about her mechanical augmentation - perhaps it was because it made him feel like he was no longer alone in being a cyborg, but it was probably just because the mistake he had made in destroying her previous one had finally been rectified.

    Nearby, Muta made his way back up the ramp that led to La Xara, sent by Kakamu to fix the engine that had been previously destroyed by one of the 'elemental troopers' aboard Enumcharad's Wake. As the android left, Kakamu assured Vekhta that they had made a 'small fortune' in Muta's estimation by selling off the parts they had organized, but advised her that if she wanted an exact number, she would have to ask Muta instead. However, Kakamu did show her some of the things that they had apparently accepted as payment in addition to a hefty pile of credit chips, including a large golden staff, a seemingly-ordinary wooden chair that apparently 'wasn't there before', and a pair of brown-tinted, thin-framed sunglasses. Kakamu playfully placed the sunglasses on Vekhta's face, amusing them both.

    Once Kakamu had made sure that Muta was out of earshot, he leaned in close to Vekhta, his expression darkening somewhat. "Listen... Charlia," he said earnestly, making an effort to mimic the pronunciation he had heard from her earlier. To her surprise, he nailed it the first time, instantly changing the mood to something that felt much more intimate. "I've been thinking about what you said," he continued. "About why we came here. This path we're on now... I don't want it to be a suicide mission for either of us. I think we've both had our fair share of those already. But whatever's on Nil'nara... it's important to me that we don't just survive it. We have to do better than that. We barely escaped Keylana, and I have a feeling that whatever's on Nil'nara is worse. Much worse."

    Kakamu then broke away from her, beginning to pace around, apparently deep in thought.

    "We need a psychic," he decided, turning back to face her. "Someone who can shield our minds even better than we can. Someone more powerful than whatever it is we're going up against. Do you know anyone like that who might be willing to help us?"

    -----

    <???>

    All that has happened before will happen again.

    A hooded figure gasped desperately for breath as he fled across a dark, barren landscape, resisting the urge to stop and look over his shoulder. For hours now, he had been pursued by a figure from his worst nightmares; one whose powers not only far exceeded his own, but whose very existence defied everything that his teachings had taught him was possible. No spell had stopped her progress, nor afforded him escape; it was like all of his power and knowledge amounted to nothing in her presence, and all he had left to flee with was his injured, weakened body. She stuck to him like a shadow, gliding effortlessly behind him while he had no choice but to keep his eyes on the ground, barely managing to avoid stepping on any of the countless sharp rocks that lay strewn about this unfamiliar realm. Although she made no footsteps, he knew she was still there; the holy light that radiated from her body was still shining over his shoulders, like a beacon that heralded his demise.

    Eventually, the weakened sorcerer felt a rock that was smaller than the others tear through the sole of the tattered sandal on his right foot, shredding his skin. He cried out in pain as he fell, tumbling into even more small rocks that similarly tore through his robes as he came to a rough stop across the ground. Though his aching joints welcomed the rest, his mind filled with dread as he realized that he had nowhere left to run, and no choice left but to face judgment.

    The sorcerer brought one of his quivering hands up to his face, which was mostly obscured by a white, skull-shaped mask. It covered all of his face with the exception of the area around his left eye, which had long since been shattered in a battle he would never forget, revealing the pale skin of his human face and the entirely of his red left eye. For a moment, he considered removing the mask, but inevitably decided against it. After all, it was just as much a part of himself as any other part of his body - perhaps even more so than any other part. His mask had come to define him, instilling fear into the hearts of countless victims who had gazed upon it in their final moments while he had consumed their souls, but despite his reputation, there was no trace of fear to be found in his pursuer's face; in fact, there was no trace of any emotion at all.

    The sorcerer found this surprising as he turned to face her, taking in her appearance in what he was sure would be his final moments. Though she had the aura of a goddess, she wore the face of a mortal, with light grey skin and a lighter shade of silver-grey hair that fell around her shoulders atop the interlocking white and silver armor that covered her entire body. Her bright red eyes narrowed as she converged on him, analyzing him in return, holding the sword in her right hand steady. Feeling his gaze drawn to the weapon, the sorcerer noticed that it had a white, metal hilt, but its blade was composed of a pure blue energy, with archaic runes and characters constantly shifting across its length. There were some runes that he recognized from his magical studies, and others that he had seen used in the languages of some of the countless races that inhabited the mortal realm, but most of the characters had no meaning to him.

    "I know who you are... and I'm not afraid," the sorcerer lied to his pursuer, panting between breaths as he brought his hand back to his stomach. Though he could not bring himself to meet her eyes, he could feel her gaze piercing through him.

    In response, the woman raised her blade, levelling it with the sorcerer's neck.

    "Hand it over."

    The sorcerer, of course, knew what she was referring to. It was the thing that had brought him here in the first place: an ancient text, kept hidden in the floor of the oldest of the Covenant's sanctums, referred only to in whispers among their most senior members. The whispers spoke of a book that was written by Chronomancers in a reality separate to their own, said to contain the secrets of the multiverse itself. At first, the sorcerer had dismissed the rumors as fiction, but the more opposition he had faced in fulfilling his plan, the more he had been seduced by the possibilities of its existence. After feasting on the souls of the second-rate wizards who protected it, he had opened its cover and read the first sentence, in which he found his worst fears about the future fulfilled.

    All that has happened before will happen again.

    His hand still quivering, the man reached into his robes and retrieved a thick white tome that he had tried to keep hidden, though it was obvious that he could hide nothing from the woman in front of him. The book was completely featureless with the exception of five words on the front, printed in plain black text: The Annals of the Wanderer. The sorcerer held the book out in front of him, offering it to the woman, who telekinetically lifted it towards herself, opening it in front of her face in mid-air. She flipped past a few pages and stopped, by no mere coincidence, on the page where the sorcerer had finished reading. In the first sign of emotion he had observed from her, the woman grimaced and telekinetically closed the book, turning back to face him. The second her attention left the book, the book left too, vanishing as if it had never been there at all.

    "Are you going to kill me?" the sorcerer asked, almost choking on his words with fear. "Are you going to reset my timeline?"

    "No," the woman replied stoically, letting go of the handle of her sword. Although the sorcerer expected the sword to fall to the ground as a result, it instead disappeared in the same manner as the book had.

    "But... what I know now..."

    "...is inconsequential," the woman decided, staring down at him with an expression that now almost resembled disappointment, or pity. "What you think you know now is a drop in a bottomless ocean. A grain of sand on an endless beach. The first number in infinity."

    "So... you will let me go?" the sorcerer asked, daring to consider the prospect. "But... you know who I am. You know that I will kill again. You know what I must do to fulfil my purpose-"

    "But do you?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "I know exactly who you are, Knight-Sikkatim of the Yuzari Order. What I don't understand is why you're pretending to be somebody else."

    Sikkatim looked up in surprise, his red eyes shining through his mask to meet hers. "Whatever do you mean?"

    "That mask. Those robes. Those powers. You're a bad copy of somebody else... a much greater man who will soon return."

    "How... dare you!" Sikkatim spat, instantly climbing to his feet in defiance. In an instant, all the fear he was feeling was drained from his body, replaced with virulent rage. "You dare mock me? You dare mock my quest? I was the one who drove back the Eclipse when their spread seemed unstoppable. I fought in the final days of Annosus as the Kanos Jai set fire to its heavens. I lived through the final days of the Fifth Arc Crusade and the genocide of my people, and you have the audacity to say those experiences aren't mine?"

    "No, those ones are definitely yours," the woman stoically replied, narrowing her eyes as she stared deeper into his soul. Her eyes darted rapidly back and forth as she gazed upon the sorcerer, reading his history in the same way a person would read a book: line by line, page by page. "What I don't understand is what turned you into... this. I can see the history of everything... but not you. There are gaps. Entire pages of your life torn out."

    In the instant before Sikkatim could respond, the woman re-manifested her sword and swung at his face, instantly splitting his mask in half, causing it to fall to the ground in two pieces. As he looked back up at her, his face was revealed as a man with thick angular eyebrows and stubble. Sikkatim gasped in horror, reaching for the pieces of his mask, but they seemed to melt into a white light of the same color of the aura that surrounded the woman, sinking into the ground beneath his hands.

    "You can go," the woman decided. This time, instead of vanishing her sword, she slotted the blade into a white sheath attached to her hip. "But I'll be watching you."

    And then, just as suddenly as she had appeared, she left, fading into the breeze like an aging memory. Sikkatim clenched his fists, feeling his power returning to him in her absence - centuries of magical knowledge that he had accumulated from the Covenant, the Sha'lythe, the Disciples of Veras, and more - and smiled. As he rose to his feet, his ragged breaths gave way to laughter; an unhinged, discordant laughter, the kind that was only possible from a man who knew nothing of humor. Sikkatim collected his tattered robes and his tattered mind and resumed his quest, walking towards the horizon, treading step by step towards a future that only he had the madness to know.
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by JS Tue Oct 05, 2021 10:14 pm

    [ Galactic Holonet ]

    Given the victory of Gaius Malcovus in the election, Gabriel Ascheron gave a concession speech, broadcast on the galactic holonet.

    "Greetings, citizens of the Free States Alliance. As you know, the will of the people is second only to the word of God. A few hours ago, the FSA Assembly voted, and it appears the will of the people is that Gaius Malcovus should serve as Secretary-General, not myself. I have spoken to our new Secretary-General moments ago to pass along my congratulations on a race well fought and a victory hard earned. His success shall be our success.

    Now is not the time for division and infighting; it is time for us to unite as we should have from the very beginning; one alliance, one people, one leader. Every day that the New Order continues to exist represents an injustice against those still living and an insult to those who have fallen before them. Our full efforts must be on the total annihilation of this persistent enemy, a pursuit towards which Gaius Malcovus is well-suited.

    Long live the Free States Alliance."

    The speech ended, and Ascheron stepped down from the holo-transmitter. He was aboard the Lurian warship Panzerkunst, in a communications room that was deserted save for him; he turned, making his way down a corridor and finally arriving at a holding chamber for superhuman detainees. Inside were Admiral Burn Gorman... and the real Gabriel Ascheron, suspended in the center of the room in a restraint field. The replicant clone of Gabriel Ascheron, who was generally referred to by handlers as Gabe, smiled wistfully as he came to stand besides the traitorous Admiral Gorman. The real Ascheron - still 'wearing' the appearance of Evangelise - cast a dire glance towards the conspirators. Admiral Gorman should have been reveling in his victory, but instead a solemn expression took hold of the man's face.

    "Why, Gorman? Why have you done this?" roared Gabriel. His ambitions had been burned to the ground the very man he once thought of as his right hand - and now Gaius Malcovus ruled the Free States. "What did Malcovus offer you? What could he possibly have done to turn you against your Emperor?"

    "It's not what he did, Ascheron. The fault for all this... lies with you. You let Luria burn. Our planet was destroyed due to your eccentricities - your obsession with chasing title after title, glory after glory. You had to be stopped."

    Ascheron roared, struggling against the restraint field. "I know you, Gorman. You alone could not have thought up this treasonous plot. Who set you up to it? Sefer? Figlio? Evangelise?"

    Gabe chuckled. "Gorman, I tire of this captive's insane ramblings. We should-"

    Gorman raised his hand, gesturing for the replicant's silence. Gabriel Ascheron was still owed some respect. Burn Gorman stepped forwards.

    "There is an organization... deep within the Free States Alliance, devoted singularly to defeating the New Order, by any means necessary. Inter arma... enim silent leges. Their science predicted that, with Kruger's death, only Malcovus stood a chance of leading us to victory. I... didn't want to believe them, Emperor. But after we lost Luria, I had no choice. I saw the way you looked back at that burning world - you were so preoccupied with the sight of your legacy in tatters that it blinded you to the suffering of our people. I was offered a choice between allowing you to become Secretary General... or the survival of our people - our very way of life itself. I swore an oath to protect that way of life. It is that way of life I will continue to protect, until the day I die."

    "That day might come sooner than you think."

    Gorman smirked. "I'm afraid that won't be the case, Emperor. You have no allies amongst the admiralty or military leadership. The AKD's transition into the Ascheron Colonial Republic is already underway, with myself as its first chancellor. This clone will serve to ensure continuity of government as we transition into a truly democratic state."

    Ascheron spat.

    "Then tell your master... tell Klak... that I'll see him in hell."

    "Klak?" replied Burn Gorman, confused. "Klak had nothing to do with this - he is just another pawn in all this. A pawn whose time in the board... is drawing rapidly to a close."

    ---

    [ Phoenix Talon ]

    At first, Salem was confused by Klak's question - until one by one the puzzle pieces fell into place.

    "Of course. The man in the limo... must've been your father. I'm sorry. I didn't quite realise."

    Salem bowed his head contemplatively.

    "I was praying when men sent by Gaius Malcovus came to take my life. I fought them off and made my way outside, which is when I discovered an all-too familiar face attacking the motorcade, attempting to kill your father. With God as my witness, Mr. President, I did all I could to save him. But..."

    Salem clenched his fist, turning to look out of the window at the planet below.

    "A young boy wandered into the confrontation. I had to make a choice between saving that innocent boy or the man I now know to be your father. And... even knowing what I know, Mr. President, I would still have made the same decision. I suspect that if your father was even half the man he raised you to be, he would've wanted me to make that choice, too. Take my life, if you want to. God knows I deserve it, after the things I've done - the things I've been a part of. But I... will not apologize for the choice I made. I cannot. I... hope you understand."

    Meanwhile, in the cockpit, the two pilots suddenly jolted about as if their internal VIs were misfiring. Instead, firmware apparently installed by September Dawn during their vetting process, but which instead functioned to turn them into sleeper agents, activated. They looked to eachother, smiling wryly.

    "Fiat justitia..."

    "...ruat caelum."

    They pitched the ship downwards, accelerating towards Malchior's atmosphere ... as heat began to rapidly build up around the hull.

    [ Synching Ship Club, First Floor, Liquid Metallicon ]

    (Theme)

    Men of ill intent in white suits and sunglasses filtered into the nightclub, carrying an assortment of heavy weapons. The bouncers at the doors, realizing what was about to happen (and concluding that no paycheck was worth dying for), turned and fled. Shepard entered, carrying a drum-fed assault shotgun in the same white color as his three-piece suit and longcoat; he smiled as he raised his barrel, racking the bolt back with a satisfied smirk on his face. The gathered patrons paused, looking on in confusion at the Espiritu Santo assassins stood on the periphery at the dancefloor. Shepard looked over to the robotic DJ, and nodded.

    "Espiritu Santo sends its regards."

    At that moment, the dancefloor's antigravity system activated, throwing the patrons (many of whom were reaching for their weapons) into the air. The assassins opened fire, filling the room with sound and fury; hundreds of rounds flooded into the null-field, shredding some of the patrons, exploding others, sending them reeling through the air; Shepard's autoshotgun rocketed about in his hands as he unleashed a full salvo of explosive rounds into the crowd. His gun went empty, then so did those of this companions; they stood, waiting for the smoke to clear. When it did, they saw dozens of bodies floating around lifelessly within the antigravity null field... but amongst them, some of the patrons seemed to be regenerating, reaching for weapons, sucking the lifeforce out of the dead and dying to restore integrity to their own bodies.

    "Vampires." said Shepard, calmly. He and his men threw their weapons to the ground, pulling new ones from within their jackets; mostly MAC-11 style submachineguns, loaded with Minútite-tipped rounds. This rare metal had replaced silver as Espiritu Santo's go-to counter for supernatural beings... a role it was extremely effective in. They stepped forwards, jumping into the anti-gravity null-field; Shepard turned himself mid-air, landing on the ceiling, running across it firing twin submachineguns at a group of Faul'dhim guards who were running along the walls, returning fire with their pistols. A Faul'dhim carrying a morningstar charged towards Shepard, running along the floor 'above' him and jumping up as if to swat Shepard off the ceiling; Shepard kicked off the ceiling, shooting towards the floor below and causing the Faul'dhim's morningstar to completely miss him - and as it did, Shepard opened up into the assailant and point-blank range, shredding him. Some of the Espiritu Santo assassins drew katanas as more Faul'dhim closed in to melee range; Shepard grabbed the morningstar floating in the air ahead of him and swung it around, dismantling two Faul'dhim who were speeding towards him, knives drawn.

    Another Faul'dhim carrying a claymore jumped down to meet Shepard, extending extending a broad swing towards Shepard. He blocked with the haft of the morningstar, but the wood simply shattered, splinters flying off into the Zero-G surroundings. Shepard did a backflip and pulled a pair of pistols from under arm holsters, firing at the claymore wielder as he flew backwards through the air; the swordsman used his superhuman reflexes to block the incoming shots with his sword. He angled the point of his sword towards Shepard and kicked off the ground, shooting through the air towards him.

    "Shepard, catch!"

    One of Shepard's companions threw a pair of nunchucks towards him; Shepard caught them and used the chain to grabble the blade of the claymore, redirecting it away from himself. The startled Faul'dhim continued forwards as his sword flew off in a perpendicular direction, and Shepard opened up into him at point blank range with his remaining pistol, before spinning and throwing the Faul'dhim out of the null field and onto the floor beyond. Shepard and his men pushed their way towards the elevator, mopping up the last of the Faul'dhim resistance, firing akimbo MP5Ks, Uzis, whatever weapons Espiritu Santo had been able to requisition on-planet that suited their needs. Once the first floor was empty, more Espiritu Santo entered the nightclub carrying weapons cases which they placed on the floor before unlatching. Within were pump-action shotguns and assault rifles; the assassins reloaded and re-armed, before stepping into the elevator and ascending to face whatever threat awaited them.
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by drj Wed Oct 06, 2021 7:36 pm

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told, Level 57-B>

    As his weapon was ripped out of his hand, Victor roared and charged at Oblique, but Sally struck him with a telekinetic blast at the same time as the shockwave reached him. The combined force smashed him into the nearest wall with enough force to dislodge his, thankfully detachable, head. The other goon, Matteo, grabbed a loose pipe off the floor and began to swing it at Mavis, only to be stopped by, of all people, Sophie Vinderen.

    “Stand down, Matteo.” Sophie said, putting her hands up. “We surrender.”

    “Boss?”

    I said what I said. They’re making a mistake, and they’ll have to find that out the hard way... but how else can they learn?” She kept on smirking even as Prush cuffed her and started to lead her to the brig.

    -----

    <Yari III, Old Saskana>

    Shae had to stop herself rolling her eyes as Skydda motioned for a waiter who would not come, the Norths not having any domestic staff. Instead, she simply gestured to the open bottle of wine sitting on the table. Skydda was half-right, half-wrong about her. She did understand his preoccupations, she just didn’t care about them. He was a tool to her, and even if he hadn’t yet wronged her personally, if - or, rather, when - he started to do more harm than good, she’d happily do to him what she did to Silver.

    “You won’t.” she said tersely, while at the same time sending a private message to Peter through her VI. “Now, I just need another satisfied customer.”

    ---

    “If you say so,” Siper/Enrique said, and began to walk away. Once he was far enough away that Raven could no longer see him, he turned into an alleyway. After first checking his pockets once again, he began to shape-shift into a new form.

    ---

    “I’m fine!” Aster cried as Rain ran towards her. “Keep after him!” She started to sprout wings, hoping to chase after Raven that way, only to suddenly stop and fall forwards as a bullet embedded itself in her back.

    “No… not now…” Even as the poison coursed through her system, causing her humanoid form to lose cohesion and return into its natural form of an odd silver slime, Aster was still trying to advance. “I have so much to do…” And then, she stopped.

    Standing some distance behind her, holding a smoking gun, was Raven - or, at least, an exact copy of Raven. Smirking, he turned to flee, only in turn to be decked in the face, then kicked in the chest by a passer-by who’d been behind him.

    As Aster’s assassin fell to the ground, Rain, Kirsten, Mett and Karol were suddenly face-to-face with, perhaps, the last person they expected to see; Peter North, Silver Eachan’s former Vice-President. The man was grimacing - partly in pain, as he wasn’t exactly used to punching people, partly out of squeamishness due to the mildly gruesome scene before him, and partly because he was realising that his and Shae’s plan was seemingly going up in smoke.

    -----

    <Yari System, Shifter Rebel Warship Black Sky>

    “Shit!” Vladimir slammed his fist down on the table as the monitor in front showed the news of Aster’s death.

    “What do we do now?” said Sanofi Pasteur, who had just returned from the meeting on board the Glaive Wraith and was now standing in the corner.

    “Now…” Vladimir drummed his fingers on the table. “Now we follow Richard’s plan and hope for the best.”

    “And when…” Sanofi stopped herself. “If it goes wrong?”

    “Then we watch all our dreams explode.”

    -----

    OOS: Theme of this segment: First We Take Manhattan by Leonard Cohen

    <Yari III, Horba City>

    Alfred Ernst von Budberg looked out of the window of his office. A vast crowd of protesters, mostly Shifters, had gathered there, blaming him for the assassination of Aster, as well as the many other terrorist attacks that had occurred in recent weeks and months. Somewhere in the crowd, Anna Lundby was giving a speech. The Prime Minister was almost amused by her reluctant attempts to play the role of rabble-rouser, which was now perversely expected of her, while also trying to control the anger of the crowd. Similar scenes were happening across Yari, and riots had erupted in many Shifter-dominated districts. It was exactly as Von Budberg and his advisors had planned, and his next move would make them look like the guilty party, and consolidate the Stäbil vote around his new NatCon ticket once and for all.

    He turned to Paul Fizer, who was consulting the latest version of the Prime Minister’s lovingly curated enemies list, now uploaded onto a data device that also contained the last known location of everyone on the list - including, first and foremost, one Jones Skydda. “Are your men ready?” he asked.

    “Of course. I hope you’re packed - you’ll need to disappear for a few days now,” The advisor smirked, but his expression almost immediately darkened as he realised there was some sort of commotion outside. Both of them ran to the window, and noticed an odd mix of old armoured vehicles and technicals had blocked all the roads leading up to the square, while several armed men wearing green helmets and VI headsets were escorting away a confused looking Anna Lundby.

    Suddenly, the door broke down, and a man wearing a white mask entered, followed by several other armed Shifters. The masked man shoved Fizer to the ground, snatched the data device, and passed it to one of his men.

    “Who the hell are you?” the Prime Minister cried. “What is the meaning of this?”

    “I’m taking over this town.” the masked man said. “Take them away.”

    As the armed men dragged Von Budberg and Fizer away somewhere, the masked man put on his VI Headset, and stepped up to the window.

    “Good evening, everybody! My name is Richard Branley, perhaps known to your children as the Masketta Man.” he said, his words being simultaneously broadcast across the Yari system. “It has come to my attention that this planet, and the entire Tanari Confederation, is being run right into the ground. While we Shifters were never asked whether we wanted to be part of it, it remains the case that without our blood, toil, tears and sweat, none of these things would exist. As such, our movement feels duty-bound to assume executive authority over Yari immediately. Should you doubt our claim… Well, I’d like to ask all residents of Horba City to direct their attention to the coast.”

    To the west of the city, just off shore, lay Fennell Island, a small island dominated by a retirement community for wealthy Stäbils. Within seconds of Richard’s statement, a barrage of railgun rounds and missiles from the hijacked ships parked in orbit of Yari very conspicuously reduced it to rubble. As the Shifter himself looked on, he was elated. Finally, his plan was proceeding - and the Void Magic’s call for blood would be sated.

    “I will make further announcements in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, all citizens should obey the orders of my Green Helmets.” he said, and smirked.

    -----

    OOS: Theme of the next two segments: Broken Mirror by Boom Boom Mountains

    <A Dark Dimension>

    After what felt like an eternity, Aster finally stopped falling. She suddenly found herself in an almost pitch-black space, the only light being provided by a raging fire not too far from her - and by the eleven gleaming crystals encircling her. Naturally, her first move was to approach one, in the hope it might tell her something about where exactly she was, but she was repelled by some invisible force. As she fell right back into the centre of the circle, a very familiar - in all the wrong ways - voice chuckled in the shadows.

    “Allman.” Aster said. “How?”

    Edward Allman smirked. “I think you’re already well-acquainted with our friend Blackout. Before they so unfortunately perished, his kind mastered the power of life and death. Sefer may have destroyed my body, but my soul lived on here… and now, thanks to your sacrifice, this ritual will return me to the mortal world, stronger than ever before. For once, you’ll be useful.”

    As Allman spoke, the crystals began to hover slightly above what passed for the ground in this dimension, and hum ominously. Aster felt fear, and yet also relief - the pieces of the puzzle were suddenly falling into place. She realised there was only one thing she could possibly do, only one way to prevent the return of her greatest enemy - and maybe, her own demise.

    “You still won’t be.” The Shifter scoffed, and looked upwards. “Even by his standards, Edward Allman achieved nothing. And you want to bring him back? Come on, Blackout. Try something new!”

    “Don’t be a fool. His mind is made up. He won’t listen to you.” Allman said, but Aster ignored him. “I know what you are.” she continued. “I know what you are. You’re the last of a people who were mindlessly sacrificed in the name of endless, bitter war. Ascheron wiped out your people, and everyone else let him. No one remembers them, no one mourns them, no one cares about trying their killers for their crime. You want revenge. You want the galaxy to descend into chaos. I get it.

    “What the hell are you doing?” Allman began to grow more concerned.

    “Is that what the Voids’ legacy should be? Nothing but more chaos and death? This galaxy was built on that. You’re a victim of the system, and you want a weapon to use against it, is that it?” Aster yelled. She had no idea if her words could convince Blackout, or if he was even listening, but considering the alternative, all she could do was try and hope that she had as good a read on him as she suspected she did. “I can’t possibly know what it’s like to be in your position, but I know who’s kept my people down for so long, and it’s the same people, the same system. You have to know that as well as I do at this point. I’m your weapon. Shifters are your weapon. Don’t tie yourself to tawdry tyrants and failures. Use me to build something they’d be proud of, if you have to.”

    In response, there was silence, and then the grim laughter of Edward Allman. “He already knows Shifters are his weapon, my dear. It’s just that your friend Richard got to him first.” the ex-dictator said. “Together, the two of us are going to break the Confederation.”

    “Why do you want-”

    “Because it’s shown that it deserves it!” Allman barked. “Enough of this already.” The hovering crystals began to slowly rotate around Aster. She stood silently, pretending to be grimly resigned to her fate. Deep down though, she asked herself if her destiny was really a meaningless, humiliating death, to match that of her family, and the very thought filled her with rage.

    And then, the crystals moved. They floated away from Aster, and instead surrounded Allman. “No!” he yelled, realising what was about to happen. In the blink of an eye, he simply vanished, his soul erased completely, and the crystals crashed to the ground. Aster barely had the time to smirk before she, too, disappeared. With the ritual completed, if not in the way anyone had planned, its beneficiary was simply ejected from the dimension.

    Blackout materialised in the now-empty dark void, and looked on as the light in the crystals went out, one by one. The ritual would change Aster, as it changed anyone saved through it. A wave rippled out through the galaxy’s leylines, letting anyone sufficiently attuned know that some new force had emerged from the aether. Some, like Klak, could sense that said force was someone very much familiar to them. On the other hand, others, like Salem or Vekhta, could sense the Void power behind it.

    In theory, Blackout had just found the missing element of his plan. He had created a perfect symmetry: on the one hand, there was Akzer - a man committed to chaos, but who Blackout suspected might be led towards order of a sort eventually as he realised his power. And on the other, there was Aster, a woman committed to order, but who would surely cause chaos, at least for a time, as she asserted her power. The two of them could be perfectly placed to inherit the galaxy after the current main powers were humbled.

    However, such things were barely on the Void’s mind at that moment. “I have given this race what ours were denied; a second chance to assert their own destiny.” he thought to himself. “Vekhta… wherever you are… please hear me.

    -----

    <Yari III>

    Aster materialised in a green field, with nothing on the horizon but a village that was being bombed to smithereens by what appeared to be Tanari gunships. But before she could take stock of her surroundings or do anything else, a man wearing purple robes appeared before her. He was clean-shaven and relatively handsome, even if this was disguised by his slight sneer, and dark brown hair was slid back over his head.

    “You convinced the chessmaster to sweep aside his own chessboard. Fascinating.”

    “What?” she stammered out. Some ancient, almost primal part of her being, that she had never even realised was there, was telling her to fear the man, but mostly, she was just exasperated. Her brush with death, and unexpected rescue by Blackout - or at least she hoped it was Blackout - had really been more than enough mysterious supernatural events for one day.

    “There’s an old saying. ‘Character is what you are in the dark.’” the man smiled. “Well, as you might have guessed by now, I am part of the distant past of your people.”

    “You’re not making any sense.”

    “My name, at least the one history remembers me by, is Prevaius. Clever, isn’t it?” the scientist smirked. “I already know your name… and that you are now both something new, and something very, very old.”

    “Look, I really don’t care.” With a wave of her hand, Aster simply dismissed the apparition. She didn’t have time for this - now that she had her second chance, she had to save the village if she still could, then find Rain and the others and stop whatever Richard had just set in motion.

    -----

    <Malchior IV, Nadle’s Office>

    “I have no power to stop them doing anything anyway.” Blair said airily. “A split in the pro-FSA vote could be dangerous… but should they wish to run, I’m sure a mutually agreeable settlement can be arranged. Likewise for your President, and the observers. I can give them access, even try to protect them, but at the end of the day, you know who our enemy is. As for the information, you’ll have it by the end of the day.”

    Blair stood up to leave, only for the hologram to shimmer into life. “Of all the plausible options, I arranged for the one that Malchior feels most comfortable with. Just like I’m doing now. I’ve dealt the cards as best as I can… how you’ll play them is up to you.” he said, and left for the Snakecharmer.

    -----

    <Malchior IV, Vrai Embassy>

    “Secretary, I completely agree with your proposal, but there’s one problem with it,” the Vrai ambassador replied as Jefferson Bethlehem’s hologram appeared before him. “You purport to speak for the entire FSA, but the perception, unfair of course, that you were trying to dominate the alliance just allowed Malcovus’ campaign to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Wise as your words are, I’m not sure you’re in much of a position to back them up with actions anymore.”

    The Vrai drummed his fingers on his desk as he considered his next words. “I will put your proposal to my government. I suspect they will share my view. They want the New Order defeated and don’t wish for war with Malchior, so they will likely proceed as you say. But I suspect Malcovus is even less pleased with the rise of the OPC than you are. If he initiates hostilities against us, then we will defend ourselves, and should it come to that, it will be very difficult to convince my people to make a distinction between Malchior and other FSA powers. I’m truly sorry, Mr. Bethlehem.” he said, and ended the transmission.


    -----

    <Malchior IV, FSA HQ>

    As the results were announced and Gaius Malcovus gave his victory speech, Turel turned his special power on his own master. Internally, he was elated, but he did his best to show no sign of it whatsoever.

    “Where to now, Generalissimo?” he asked.



    Once Malcovus had finished his speech, it was time for Lazran Osvaldo Dahl’s own contribution, being the nominee for Deputy Secretary-General. The delegates’ interest had visibly waned as soon as Malcovus had finished - luckily, though, Lazran only needed one person to pay attention.

    “I am honoured to accept the new Secretary General’s nomination,” he said. “I will put every talent I have, every ounce of energy in every fibre of my being, towards achieving the Pax Galactica of which he speaks. As must we all. This election has put all of our differences on full display, and while the diversity of the FSA is our strength, we must work together to secure our future. We must unite.”

    For the second time that day, he made a point of looking directly at the Malchiorian delegation, and smirked. “As such, honoured delegates, I would like to nominate Ambassador Marianna Gilclack of Malchior as my Chief of Staff,” he proclaimed smugly.

    At the same time, he sent another private message to Malcovus’ aide through his VI, requesting a meeting with the new Secretary-General as soon as possible.

    -----

    <Lanorra>

    “That’s the whole point of those weapons being there.” Romeo Jarres shrugged. “I agree on the boarding parties, too. If we could capture even a single one of their ships, that would be a massive help to us all.”

    “I agree. I don’t want a single New Order troop on the surface.” Anna Luxon said. “This may be a military outpost, but there are still civilians here, and at the end of the day our duty is to them above all. We’ll try the Q’tencast maneuver.”

    “May fate smile upon us.” Romeo muttered.

    “Don’t put your trust in fate.” replied Anna. “Trust in yourself.”

    -----

    <Vongola, Refugee Escort Mission>

    “Ah. One of those.” Sergei shook his head. “Listen, kid. A few years ago, before I was a contractor, I was the Tanari military attaché, down in the capital. It was a pretty cosy assignment for wartime, the Di Armechios gave us whatever we needed. One day, the geniuses back on Tanari Prime decided this trading outpost called Atuar Sadiares was being used for weapons smuggling for the Malchiorians. As you know, the VPR have fingers in every pie. They’d scoped the place out thoroughly, and they told me there was nothing going on there Allman needed to worry about. I reported back to my superiors, begged them not to do it, but they went ahead with the attack anyway.”

    “My brother, Nikolai, was living on Atuar Sadiares back then. I abandoned my post to warn him, but it was too late. By the time I got there…” Sergei wound down his window, and lit a cigarette before offering one to Luekas. “By the time I got there, they’d already destroyed the station.”

    “I’m not telling you this because I want your pity. I’m telling you this because I’ve met lots of men like you on this planet. And I want you to learn, before it’s too late, that as much as they might pretend otherwise, loyalty to a cause or a uniform will never help you save what’s most important to you.” He took a drag of his cigarette. “You have to do that yourself.”

    As Sergei told his story, the mercenary convoy had continued advancing, and soon a makeshift camp was visible on the horizon.

    -----

    <Vongola, Kozin’s Camp>

    “Lieutenant,” Kora kept walking away from the tent, hoping Max-Eli would follow. “I needed to speak to you privately before we go ahead with what Kozin and I just agreed. There’s no substitute for first-hand knowledge.”

    She turned to face him. “How are… we viewed on Vongola? And what do you know about what’s happening in Sards?”

    -----
    Kon
    Kon
    The Chronicler
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Kon Thu Oct 14, 2021 10:10 pm

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told, Level 57-B>

    Exhaling with satisfaction, Oblique closed his eyes and strummed a few light notes on Halo's strings as the officers hauled Vinderen and her goons past him. For most people, the world seemed to disappear when they closed their eyes, but for Oblique, a new world opened instead; one filled with bristling colors and emotion that his other senses would often tune out when his eyes were open. The physical inhabitants of the room disappeared from view, but their auras remained, shining through the darkness behind Oblique's eyelids with their unique glows and imperfections. Tilting his head, Oblique looked at Vinderen through closed eyes to more carefully observe her aura now that the danger had passed, and to his surprise, it was not what he expected. While there was darkness in her soul, he felt that she also carried a mixture of emotions: not just hate and malice, but a thirst for justice not dissimilar to his own. For a second, he pondered what kind of justice she could possibly be aiming to achieve with her criminal acts, but soon banished the thought from his mind as one with no consequence: after all, Vinderen would not be the first villain he encountered who believed they were in the right, and she would certainly not be the last.

    Oblique opened his eyes, scanning the environment of Vinderen's lair. Dozens of plasteel crates were stacked against the walls with labels that detailed their cargo, though whether they could be believed was anyone's guess. If they were accurate, many of the crates contained medical supplies that were 'property of Lord Antivaks' as well as humanitarian goods. Naturally, Oblique dismissed this as a lie - nobody could have a name as ridiculous as 'Lord Antivaks', after all. With that in mind, Oblique Twilight Radiance gracefully leapt over the overturned chairs and tables between him and the cargo, almost appearing to glide through the air as he did so, intending to search the crates for the ancient sword he had been seeking for weeks.

    Sliding his fingers beneath the first crate's lid, Oblique lifted it and peered inside to find something even more surprising: a collection of valuable merchandise bearing the likeness of J.S. Venturi, a former Pi'lari movie star who was effectively 'cancelled' when he joined an interplanetary team of terrorists led by the notorious criminal Yon. While Oblique was no expert on the Pi'lari arts, the tale of the rise and fall of Venturi had reached even his ears during his stay aboard the Coldest Story Ever Told. Oblique sighed, closed the lid, and moved on to the next crate, which seemed to contain a bundle of power cells - which could also function as bombs, in the wrong hands. After peering into a few more crates, which contained seemingly-innocuous items that could all also be used for sinister purposes, Oblique finally found his prize.

    Holding Halo in his left hand, Oblique's right hand reached into the crate and returned grasping the handle of a magnificent, intricately-designed sword. It seemed to have been forged with a mixture of blue and white metals, intertwining to create a pattern that was not unlike waves crashing against each other along both sides of the blade. Accompanying the patterns were ancient runes, the meaning of which even Oblique could only guess at. The blue-white blade of the sword seemed to glow with an aura of its own which was even visible to the others as he held it triumphantly in the air, satisfied that his mission was finally complete, his pale lips curving to form the slightest hint of a smile. After the testing - and often outright bizarre - events of the past few hours, he had won.

    As Oblique held the blade in front of his face, examining the markings on its surface, he felt a profound sense of peace wash over him. What should have been one short moment seemed to stretch out into eternity, his newfound companions and the metal walls of the cabin receding into the background, bringing him and the sword closer together. The runes had no meaning to him, but the more he looked, the more they seemed alive somehow; each one existing with a purpose, existing to work together, in order to create... something. The runes, as if responding to his thoughts, or his imagination, began to move. Enraptured by the vision, Oblique stood motionless as the runes shifted across the sword, passing over the surface of the handle and onto the flesh-coloured skin of his fingers. Oblique gasped in horror, the feeling of peace now turning into one of abject powerlessness. He suddenly felt trapped, lacking the will to break away, as the runes, feeling freezing cold against his skin, began to move up his arm and towards his shoulders.

    "Oblique?" the voice of Halo spoke, concerned. "You okay there, buddy?"

    But Oblique could not respond. The sword now held him, as he once held the sword. His surroundings faded away and Halo's voice muffled as the Lithan felt the runes climb over his neck and up the side of his head. His thoughts raced, questioning where the runes were going, before he felt them dive inside his ear. For a moment, there was silence; he could no longer hear the muffling of Halo's voice, nor the ambience of the Coldest Story. Even the sound of his heartbeat had stopped - something he had never noticed until it went. This was the kind of silence that he imagined was only possible for those who could not live. It was the sound of death - though even death, as it would seem, had a voice of its own.

    "All that has happened before will happen again."

    Gasping in horror, Oblique snapped out of the vision, finding himself back on the Coldest Story Ever Told. The sword in his hand clattered against the floor, glowing and shaking violently, while the gemstone in his forehead gave the same reaction, alerting him to the presence of a powerful aura. The Lithan cursed under his breath in his native language as he scrambled over to the sword, wrapping it in the long sleeves of his robes, reminding himself that he should have been more careful in handling a weapon that was never intended to be used by a mortal in the first place. Looking around the room, Oblique noticed the others staring at him in surprise, unsure whether to be afraid, just like him.

    "...there is no such thing as a coincidence," Oblique thought aloud, catching his breath and composing himself before turning to the others. "Where is Xavik?" he said to no-one in particular. "It seems... there's still something... I need to do here."
    drj
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Left_bar_bleue0/0BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty_bar_bleue  (0/0)

    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by drj Sun Oct 17, 2021 7:00 pm

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told, Brig>

    On paper, Sophie Vinderen’s plan had been simple enough. She’d let herself be taken into custody and wait until the cavalry came, at which point she’d be a free woman again and the security force would be embarrassed yet again - all just the way she liked it. But as she paced furiously around her cell, trying to ignore her rising nausea and pawing at anything that looked like a gap between the bulkhead and the force field keeping her inside instead of getting a restful sleep, she was brought right back down to earth by the realisation she’d forgotten one crucial detail.

    Sophie Vinderen had learned to absolutely hate confined spaces.

    She was about to start desperately scratching at the wall, when she suddenly realised that wouldn’t work. It never worked. It only made things worse last time. “Stupid thoughts for a stupid girl,” she thought to herself as she pulled back from the brink. Feeling defeated and barely even able to control her breathing, she fell back onto what passed for the cell’s bed, when Prush walked into the brig, pulled up a chair and sat down in the centre of the room. He stared her down silently as if she was a thing on display, which only brought back even more uncomfortable memories and made her feel worse.

    “If you’re going to be a creep,” she finally managed to say. “Can you at least be a useful creep and get me a glass of water? Please.” She was still feigning bravado as usual, but this time, it really was just that, feigning.

    Prush was going to ignore her at first. After all, to give her a glass of water, he’d have to release the force field around her cell, giving her an opportunity to escape. But while Vinderen was a hardened criminal, between her laboured breathing and her face being even paler than usual, he quickly came to the conclusion that she seemed genuinely vulnerable and, even if she did want to escape, she clearly wasn’t in a position to get very far anyway. He silently trudged over to the sink in the corner of the room, grabbing a white mug out of a cupboard along the way, and poured some water into it. Just before he was about to release the force field and hand the mug to Vinderen, he hesitated. The prisoner then looked at him pleadingly, and he relented, but raised the force field again as soon as the mug was in her hand.

    “Thank you,” she said between sips. “Genuinely.”

    “Not a fan of small spaces, I take it.”.

    “You ever hear of the planet Nephi?”

    Prush shrugged. “Afraid not.”

    “No, I suppose you wouldn’t have. It was invaded when I was still a little girl. Overrun and wrecked forever. Some Nephidees managed to get out in the nick of time… but not everyone was keen to help us. Lots of us ended up in some very nasty places. Out of sight, out of mind." she explained. "Let's just say I've been very keen on personal freedom ever since."

    “Well, that’s a very sad story,” Prush sighed. “If only your idea of ‘personal freedom’ didn’t involve decapitating people and sticking their heads on bodies they can’t use as punishment...”

    “A thieving, murdering low-life. You can think whatever you like about me, Officer, but I’ve never deliberately harmed anyone who wasn’t already a disruptive presence, or worse. You can make money anywhere, but I believe in the Coldest Story Ever Told just as much as you do. We both play a part in making sure this experiment continues, whether you like it or not." Vinderen walked right up to the force field and, surprisingly as far as her interlocutor was concerned, smiled. "So, you can't sleep either, can you?"

    “That’s none of your concern,” Prush instinctively snarled.

    “So, that's a resounding yes then. You're not happy, are you?"

    "It's Ezra." He sighed deeply as he realised Vinderen was the first person in a while to actually ask him how he was feeling. "My partner. He's spending all night in the lab again. He says it’s an important project, but sometimes I get the feeling he just doesn’t want to be around me.”

    “Do you, by any chance, feel this way partly because you only solved your last case by complete accident and now you feel inadequate?”

    “Wha-”

    “Just a lucky guess.” Vinderen smiled. “Us Nephidees have a pretty foolproof way of solving relationship problems. If it doesn’t help, usually nothing will. You see, first we switch our heads, and then…”

    Prush laughed. “Yeah, that’s really not an option for us.”

    “Well, I’ve got no other advice. I never could be arsed with long-term relationships. Shocking, am I right?”

    Prush laughed again. Even if Sophie Vinderen was a hardened crime lord with delusions of somehow being one of the good guys, she had a way of making him feel at ease.

    Well, here comes the cavalry.” the Nephidee thought as a familiar figure appeared behind Prush.

    “Prush?” Praxter said. Two guards followed him into the brig, and stepped up to Vinderen’s cell. They were both dressed in the usual uniform security officers on the Coldest Story, but curiously, both were completely bald, just like Vinderen, and one of them was carrying a leather bag. “We need to talk outside. Now.”

    As soon as the confused security officer stepped out, Praxter closed the door to stop Vinderen overhearing their conversation. “What happened to the sword?” the captain asked.

    “Oblique took it, as was his right. Why?”

    Praxter furrowed his brow. “She’s not gonna be happy about that. Oh well, that part’s not my problem anymore.” He sighed.

    “What are you talking about, Prax? Vinderen’s our prisoner now, it really doesn’t matter if…”

    “Yeahhh, about that.” The captain was visibly uncomfortable with what he was about to say. “We have to let her go.”

    “What?!” Prush exploded. “She has the longest file I’ve seen since I left the Shinsengumi, and unlike some of ours she actually deserves it! Have you seen what she does to-”

    Praxter tapped the bulkhead repeatedly. “Do you understand what this ship is, Prush?” Thrown off-course by the sheer randomness of the question, Prush had no comeback, so the captain continued. “It’s one of the largest ships ever built. Thousands of people come and go all the time. No one can possibly know what’s happening in every corner of it at all times. However hard we try, there’ll always be an underworld. But it’s still a ship, and even a single lunatic can do irreparable damage. So I need someone running the underworld who believes in our mission. I need someone who’ll make sure nothing gets out of hand and warn me if anything actually endangers the ship. I need someone who’ll make sure any properly dangerous contraband we don’t spot ourselves gets quietly sold to someone outside the Coldest Story before people we definitely don’t want here come looking for it. As much as I hate to say it… I need Sophie Vinderen. We all do. If we lock her up, there’s no guarantee whoever takes her spot will be any better, and there’s a good chance they’ll be much worse.”

    Prush stood in silence for almost a minute, struggling to process what he’d just heard. He could feel his respect for his captain not even ebbing away, but collapsing. “So what? You’ve been letting one of the worst criminals on this ship keep running rampant this whole time, and all you get out of the deal is… the illusion of control?” he cried.

    “The Salvador Foundation transports that dock here every once in a while, carrying refugees from war-torn worlds? Vinderen pays for those.” Praxter said, pulling a chip out of his pocket. “And, they also brought this. It’s a coded FSA transmission intercepted by one of her agents. I don’t even want to know how. But it indicates there might be a Malchiorian agent on-board, possibly trying to sabotage the ship. That’s what I get out of the deal.”

    Praxter pushed past Prush, and opened the door. Vinderen was already outside her cell, now wearing a pair of oversized sunglasses and a peroxide blonde wig. “Well, I guess I’ll be going now,” she said, handing the now-empty leather bag back to one of the ‘guards’. “Prush? Good talk. Genuinely.” she added, heading for the exit.

    -----

    <Tanari Prime, Presidential Palace>

    Morgan Peres sat down on the toilet, and sobbed quietly.

    He had expected many things of his eventual presidency - something he, deep down, had always seen as inevitable - but not that the act of urination would become something deeply meaningful to him. Even if certain things she’d done to him had made it somewhat more complex than had once been the case, it was still one of the few aspects of his day Olivia Horwath had absolutely no interest in micromanaging. It allowed him a few moments where he could be alone with his thoughts, even if, thanks to the cataxyn, those thoughts were now less interesting than ever.

    Today, the President understood his role in Horwath’s design even less than ever. He’d just been forced to give a press conference at which, instead of saying anything about the Yari crisis, the state of the war with the New Order or the outcome of the FSA secretary-general election - the topics anyone might have actually wanted to hear about - he announced he was not planning to run for re-election, and was instead unconditionally endorsing James P. Louis and his agenda. Any officials in his administration who publicly endorsed David Robert Jones, or any other candidate other than Louis, were to be fired immediately, including Horwath or Blair Morrison. William Douglas Reed stayed on only because the constitution did not allow the President to remove the Vice President. Horwath wasn’t just setting the scene for the destruction of Peres’ own reputation, she was risking all the power she’d amassed too, and Morgan wondered why. As with most questions these days, while the answer seemed to be staring him right in the face, in practice it remained stubbornly out of his reach.

    As the President reluctantly arose and flushed the toilet, a new set of commands arrived in his VI.

    -----

    <The Snakecharmer>

    As the latest update from the Tanari pan-Confederation stock market arrived in his VI - appearing to him, but no one else, as a projection onto the lenses of his glasses - Blair Morrison’s reaction was the opposite of what it usually would have been. In any other circumstances, one of the greatest stock market crashes in recorded history, and reports that the federal government was on the verge of nationalising many corporations - including his beloved Bristol - would have had him raging. This time, however, everything was going exactly as planned.

    Immediately after leaving the Bristol Corporation, Blair Morrison had arranged for several shell companies to place substantial bets on the possibility of the stock prices of select companies declining, and those bets were now paying off to the tune of billions and billions of credits, punishing his erstwhile competitors and leaving him with a substantial additional slush fund, just in case he needed it. The nationalisations would undoubtedly be panned by much of the Tanari media as a shift to New Order-style economics, alarming the public and the FSA and hopefully damaging Morgan Peres and, by extension, Louis. Most importantly, though, they would also provide a convenient cover for bringing certain top-secret R&D projects Bristol had been working on under the auspices of the Tanari government, where Olivia Horwath would know exactly what to do with them once she took her job back, without drawing undue attention to their exact nature.

    Journalists had been trying to reach him for comment all day, but were all directed to his office, where an aide gave the same pre-planned response. The only journalist he was truly interested in at the moment was the one currently restrained and lying in a sarcophagus in front of him, who had somehow managed to sneak on board the Snakecharmer and find his private sanctuary.

    “You’re a tenacious one, aren’t you, darling?” he said, taking off his glasses and banishing the stock market data in the process. “I’d told you everything you needed to know back on Jumano. Why couldn’t you be happy with that?”

    Despite her sterile surroundings and objectively terrifying predicament, the journalist was trying to put on a brave face. “Why are you doing this?” she asked.

    Blair smirked. “What’s my name, darling?”

    “...Blair Morrison?”

    “No, no. My birth name was Henry, like my father. Didn’t you know?” Blair was still smirking. “Business journalists are so ill-informed.”

    “What the fuck does that have to do with anything?” the journalist cried out. Blair began circling the sarcophagus, making it even harder for her to follow him with her eyes due to her restraints. “But I never wanted to be like my father. I don’t just want to build up my little empire and protect it at all costs. I’ve done a fair bit of that, of course, but that’s just because it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.” he said. “Hardly anyone believes in anything enough to risk or sacrifice for it these days. But I do. I believe in the ascension of the ordinary man... just like Arc Blair did.”

    A pair of mechanical arms hanging from the ceiling whirred into life and began to slowly descend towards the sarcophagus, carrying some sort of mask they were about to deposit on the journalist’s face. “You, my darling, are about to take part in a grand experiment.” He smirked again. “We’re going to see if it’s possible for a journalist to be useful.”

    -----

    <Neutral Space, 2 AR>

    Silver.”

    David.”

    The handshake was stiff and awkward, much like the two men. Not that it could have been any other way; after two years of bitter war against his master, a stiff and awkward welcome was as much as Silver Eachan could expect, even if he was coming - and putting himself at risk in the process - to help put an end to said war.

    David Robert Jones waved his guards away, as a gesture of goodwill, and gestured to a makeshift tent that had been set up not far away from the landing site. Silver looked uneasy, but did the same and followed. Holograms of Takemikazuchi Prime Minister Long Shortman and Malchiorian President Howard were already waiting within, ready to join in on what they hoped would prove a fruitful negotiation.

    In the distance, two figures looked on. Despite their importance to the war effort, they had been excluded from the negotiations, which was perhaps for the best, but they decided they wanted to observe regardless.

    “Fucking incredible.” said Richard. “You remember the whole FARSI incident? I tried to set up negotiations and he laughed me out of the room.”

    “To be fair,” Aster replied after a moment’s silence. She seemed more interested in the landscape of their neutral meeting point than the meeting itself, at least as far as Richard could tell. “Gerrerra wasn’t going to come in from the cold for anyone. And certainly not for you.”

    Richard shrugged and kicked a small rock. “It’s the principle of the thing, though! What makes Eachan more credible than Saul Gerrerra? Objectively, nothing. When it comes down to it… the Stäbils look out for their own.”

    “We all do what we must, even if we don’t like it. That’s how we got here, remember?”

    “Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Maybe we’ve been wrong about what exactly we ‘must’ do the whole time.”

    -----

    <The Everyday Afternoon Show with Max Ilos>

    As David Robert Jones sat backstage, waiting for his live interview on the Everyday Afternoon Show to begin, he couldn’t help but think about the fact that he’d never actually heard of Max Ilos before . Perhaps, though, that was to be expected, as the entire Tanari Confederation was now unrecognisable. In just a short time, the National Continuance government had - seemingly without really meaning to - changed a great deal, and as far as Jones was concerned, not really for the better. The Shifter community he’d always held in great esteem was now almost gone, and thanks to the revelation of Blackout’s existence, apologia for Edward Allman was now common once again. The Confederation was now almost back to what it was just before Allman’s coup - many people seemed to yearn for a leap forward, some way to radically mark themselves out from the rest of the galaxy, and this election was seemingly going to be fought over whether they would do so by taking advantage of their new position at the heart of the FSA, or by doing something entirely new.

    While the respect many Tanari still had for him went a long way, those Tanari hadn’t been waiting for him to come back as a saviour. Indeed, the flood of news since the coup had meant his enforced disappearance had barely registered among many. To tap into that mood and stop Louis, Jones soon realised he would have to become something new himself - or rather, something old. He would have to run as the Unionist he was in the days before Allman, a reasonable man nevertheless yearning for Tanari greatness and cheering on the slow construction of a Tanari empire - or ‘Protectorate’, as he called it back then - as long as it wasn’t too bloody. Aster would not have approved, but Aster was dead now, and as much as he missed his old friend, the politician in him suspected that was for the best. It would make his job easier, and he’d always put his job first.

    His inner circle had changed almost as radically as the Confederation itself, and again, not in a way he suspected Aster would have approved of. It was a necessary evil as far as he was concerned, and his hope was that he would be able to control it and push it in his preferred direction, rather than be pushed in their preferred direction. First, there was William Douglas Reed. Jones had previously feared Reed, seeing him as the most dangerous Tanari demagogue since Allman himself, but the admittedly brief meetings the two had had together had convinced him that he was mistaken in his assessment. He noted there now seemed to be a vacant look in Reed’s eyes at all times - his experience of actually being in power had clearly crushed whatever spirit he had. He was never going to be up to the task.

    Then, there was Olivia Horwath, who’d freed him from his exile on Yorak and convinced him to run for President again. He’d known her briefly when she was still a teenager, through her father. He always thought there was a determination in her eyes, and her family had clearly instilled a sense of duty to the nation and a desire to serve it in her. Years on, it was all still there. She’d become a formidable woman, and he was looking forward to working with her.

    Finally, there was Blair Morrison, his running mate, who was in some ways the opposite of Jones. Jones had given up his family’s business empire and wealth, built on blood as it was, because he felt justice had to be done, while, as far as he could tell, Morrison had never willingly given up anything in his life. His motivations in entering politics remained a mystery to him, and he hoped it was just a vanity project on his part.

    He looked at the clock. He was supposed to go on air in one minute. He started going through the major themes he was going to try and touch on during the interview; the fact that entry into the New Order would surely mean the destruction of Tanari culture, given the nature of the New Order and Sefer Yetzirah’s known antipathy to the species, tying Louis to the Peres Pause and Morgan Peres’ ‘Seferist economics’ - Jones still couldn’t comprehend how Peres could have fallen so low - cooperation with the FSA under Gaius Malcovus and Lazran Osvaldo Dahl, a swift resolution to the Yari crisis, and opposition to Trilateralism and Vrai influence in the Tanari sphere of influence. The Order and Progress Coalition’s meddling in the Trilateral, and by extension the reasons for his disappearance, were not yet a matter of public record, and he was planning to lean heavily on them to reinforce the sense that the very existence of the Tanari people was under threat. Politically speaking, he was effectively going to have to justify his own existence, but he now felt confident that wouldn’t be a problem. Even if he was an old man, he was still good enough at the game of politics to kick Louis' arse all the way back to Vesa Qatoria, and punish Peres' treachery in the process.

    -----
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by SHROOM Sat Oct 23, 2021 5:28 pm

    <Planet Ahura>

    The planet Ahura was on fire. Bright blue ion trails tore through black clouds, and great spider tanks plowed through the war-torn megacities while plasma-charged swarmers painted great murmurations in the ruined sky.

    The tall buildings and skyscrapers that still stood glittered with the shine of high-powered scopes, and the harsh clack of ancient kinetic weaponry could be heard no matter where you were on the planet’s charred surface.

    And, as it happened every time, just as the fighting looked like it was beginning to dwindle, drop ships from both sides came to replenish their ranks, arriving from massive factories and clone banks orbiting distant stars.

    Out of each of every one of the billion manufactured combatants who raged the never-ending war on Ahura, not one could remember when the fighting started, or for what reason. Only that both sides of the war had a seemingly inexhaustible amount of resources, which they used to buy synthetic soldiers, sometimes even from the same company.

    All one side knew was that their purpose in life was to destroy the other. Tank grown humans had their conditioning and the androids and autonomous machines had their programming, all designed to kill.

    <Drop ship DR235c approaching Planet Ahura>

    5f13 stood and counted the harsh, white-blue LED lights that bisected the ceiling of the Rauser-class drop ship. His armour was freshly printed, composed of shiny white polymer plates over black synthweave. He wore an opaque helmet with a flat white surface, completely obscuring his sweating face.

    He was heading for Ahura. The dread planet. Millions of tankers like him flatlining every cycle. 5f13 had been taught not to fear, but his augmented heart began to race in his chest. Had his conditioning failed him? He counted the lights over and over, but the feeling of nausea began to fill his senses. He swayed.

    The fear was not real. It can’t have been real, for he was a weapon of war. That was what the inner voice told him as he floated in the tank all those weeks ago. He wished he was back in that tank.

    Someone grabbed onto 5f13’s hand, and he froze. Turning, he saw the tanker next to him, face forward as if nothing was happening, standing a full head shorter than him. 5f13 found himself squeezing that offered hand, holding onto it for dear life. He calmed. Stood up straight. The hand squeezed back.

    “7c50,” she said. Her armour was as black as the vacuum, with orange synthweave.

    “5f13.”

    They both stood there, linked together, listening to the low hum of the drop ship’s drive. It wasn’t long before they could hear the faint buzz of the shield projector as it vaporized small pieces of orbital debris. Not long now.

    If 5f13 got flatlined out there, at least he wouldn’t die alone.

    “Are you scared?” he asked.

    “Yeah.” she replied. Her hand gripped tighter still as they began to hit atmosphere.

    5f13 didn’t let go.

    Before he even knew what was going wrong, a surge of adrenaline hit 5f13 like a uranium shell.

    Alarms were screaming. 7c50 let go of his hand. A massive force jerked 5f13 to the side, and suddenly everyone was pinned to the back wall. One tanker in blue landed on his neck. He folded over with a wet crack.

    5f13’s HUD was alight with warnings as his suit injected something cold into his veins. Everything became dreamlike. The force pinning him to the wall became almost too much to bear as, horror-struck, he watched the front of the ship tearing away to reveal planet Ahura’s black sky. And then, they were in freefall.

    Suddenly, his conditioning kicked in. He was a weapon of war.
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Left_bar_bleue0/0BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty_bar_bleue  (0/0)

    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by drj Tue Oct 26, 2021 1:45 am

    OOS: Theme of this segment: Smells Like Teen Spirit - Malia J

    <Yari III>

    The two gunships hovered over the village, spraying random houses with fire from their plasma guns. The pilots, members of Richard’s force of ‘Green Helmets’, had been given the task of flattening that particular village, which they’d been told was mainly inhabited by Allman sympathisers, as a show of force, and had taken to it with gusto.

    As they made their way onward, one of the pilots noticed a blonde woman standing on the roof of one of the houses, looking up at them. He began to debate internally whether to open fire on her or ignore her, when he noticed the temperature in his cockpit was dropping rapidly. Within a few seconds, it had become icy.

    Aster watched silently as, its cockpit and engines having completely frosted over in a matter of seconds, the gunship simply dropped out of the sky and crashed. The second one put down as quickly as it could, and the pilot ran out in the hopes of rescuing his comrade - exactly as Aster had hoped. She leapt off the roof, shape-shifting her lower arm into a blade while in the air, and landed in front of the pilot. Before he had any time to react, she had already run him through with the blade. As his body slumped to the ground, his shocked expression soon rapidly erased as his form lost cohesion and turned into a pile of silver slime, Aster got into his gunship.

    She looked over the gunship’s controls, and noted happily that, while they were somewhat different to other Tanari ships she’d flown in the past, the autopilot seemed intuitive enough. The tracking system told her Old Saskana wasn’t too far away, which was also excellent news. Having set a destination, she slowly powered up the gunship, and lifted off.

    Now that she was safely in the air, Aster finally had time to reflect on the events of the last few hours. Part of her wished she could have stayed longer to check on the survivors of the attack, but she was all too aware the fact that, as far as anyone knew, she was still dead was probably her second-greatest weapon against Richard at the moment.

    Oh, yes. Half an hour ago, she’d been, technically speaking, dead. And then she wasn’t, thanks to a Void - whatever the hell Voids were - performing a ritual which involved the sacrifice of Edward Allman’s soul. It was such a ridiculous turn of events, such absolute nonsense. A hack writer wouldn’t have stooped so low, and yet it was happening to her right now. Unless, she suddenly thought, it wasn’t. Maybe she was actually still bleeding out in Old Saskana, and the dying embers of her mind were inventing an elaborate fantasy in her final moments. No, no, she thought. Pull yourself together, woman. Somehow, this is actually happening.

    And of course, it didn’t stop there, because her greatest weapon against Richard was whatever was allowing her to freeze a gunship in mid-air or jump much further than a humanoid ought to be able to jump. She wasn’t sure why she could do these things; she assumed it was either some side-effect of the ritual that had brought her back to life, which meant she had Edward Allman to thank for it, something she wasn’t really sure what to make of, or an unrelated gift from Blackout. In any case, she decided to stop questioning it for now. If she succeeded, she’d have plenty of time to ponder her status later, and if she didn’t, well, it didn’t matter anyway, did it? Stupid girl, she thought to herself.

    Her train of thought was interrupted by the return of a now-familiar voice. “You’re not busy anymore, then?” Prevaius Dahrk, who she could now again ‘see’ next to her, was wagging his finger. “Now will you listen to me?”

    -----

    OOS: Theme of this segment: Demons by Hayley Kiyoko and I Wanna Be Your Slave by Måneskin

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told, Club Argent>

    The dancefloor of the newly reopened Club Argent was crammed with people, mostly dancing, but some foolishly trying to talk over the thumping bassline of the song, if one could call it that, currently playing. Most clubbers were ordinary members of the Coldest Story Ever Told’s crew, who provided Club Argent - and therefore Sophie Vinderen’s sprawling organisation - with an additional source of unusually legitimate income. However, the club inevitably attracted members of the city-ship’s underworld, who used, or at least tried to use the club either as a neutral place to conduct business, or as a place to find hapless victims for various criminal tricks. The club’s increasingly expensive and elaborate security did its best to prevent and punish the latter, but the former was welcomed - several platforms hovered in the air above the dancefloor, serving as a space where ‘VIPs’ could speak without having to deal with the crowd. In other words, Club Argent used something unambiguously designed to bring people joy to camouflage the occasional less moral activity - just the way Sophie Vinderen liked it.

    That night - a special club night celebrating the reopening, for which a special DJ had been shipped in from Malchior - the club had more than one guest of honour. The first was Sophie Vinderen herself, here to celebrate her liberation, and to check up on the state of her business. She sat atop one of the hovering platforms with several associates, identical-looking men with receding hairlines wearing shades, to whom she was currently giving a description of Oblique in the hopes that they could recover the sword from the Lithan. The mercenaries, all of whom were members of a Terullian psychic collective, immediately passed the description onto their comrades hiding throughout the Coldest Story.

    The second guest of honour, instantly recognisable thanks to his piercing red eyes, which seemed to shine in the dark, was currently standing just below Vinderen’s platform, waiting for it to descend so he could come on-board. In the end, the platform slowly lowered itself onto the ground, and Vinderen invited Lord Antivaks onto it with a gesture. As soon as he had done so, it lifted off again, allowing the two some privacy.

    Sophie did not really like Lord Antivaks, who she found aloof and melodramatic. While she was no stranger to either of those things - the non-alcoholic fruit juice she was currently drinking being a testament to that, to say nothing of the entirety of her career - she thought the adamah overdid it, and, even if he had gone rogue, she still found it hard to get past his origin as a clone of Sefer Yetzirah. And of course, she thought his name was completely ridiculous. Nevertheless, the two had built up quite the working relationship over the last year or so. Vinderen was happy to give Antivaks items he needed that she could provide, as long as Antivaks was willing to occasionally ‘borrow’ from the Coldest Story’s medical supplies for her, or to let her know if a particular person had come through the ship’s infirmary.

    “You called for me, Lady Vinderen,” Antivaks said respectfully.

    The Nephidee decided to get straight down to business. “I’ve been hearing some disturbing rumours lately,” she said. “Rumours that a Malchiorian agent has infiltrated this ship, almost certainly with ill intent. They say it’s someone capable of hiding in plain sight. But that can’t be true, can it? After all, you’re a well-connected man, with access to the medical information of everyone on this ship who can access a restricted area. You would be among the first to notice if something was off. No?” Glowering, she took a sip of her juice before continuing. “Maybe my sources are wrong. But they rarely are, which means either you’re not as good as you think you are… or you haven’t been straight with me.”

    -----

    <Tanari holo-net political broadcast>

    A woman dressed in typically Tanari clothing walked down the street, minding her own business, only to freeze upon hearing the unmistakable - and yet completely out-of-place - sound of a horse’s hooves striking the ground. She turned and widened her eyes, and the camera then cut to a hideous-looking man in a cowboy costume riding his horse right at her, laughing and waving a lasso. With a single, expert movement, the cowboy threw the lasso around the woman and, having secured her, rode away, dragging his captive down the road while yelling ‘YEE-HAW!’.

    At the end of the road, Sefer Yetzirah was already waiting and rubbing her hands. The cowboy stopped in front of her, got off his horse, removed his hat and bowed before the Emperor. “She’s all yours,” he said, handing her the lasso. ‘Sefer’ smirked as she approached the captive Tanari.

    The camera cut to Blair Morrison and Olivia Horwath standing in a green field, flanked by a number of well-known Tanari personalities, including Lyndon City Mayor Mike Rivera, the journalist who had snuck on board the Snakecharmer, Colonel Riley, retired war hero and cousin of Timothy Morgan Veidt, and actor Bob O’Neill, best known for his role as the lead in the movie ‘Ladykiller’.

    “It doesn’t have to be this way,” Blair Morrison said. “You can save your nation by voting David Robert Jones for President, and for your local Fortune and Freedom Party candidate for Parliament,. I’m Blair Morrison, and I approve this message.”

    -----

    <Planet Ahura>

    c2ad, and his platoon, had been sent into what had, possibly, a very long time ago, been a small town, to investigate reports that an enemy unit had set up a base there in preparation for a sneak attack. They came heavily armed, ready to eliminate any conceivable threat.

    Upon arrival, they found no sign of their eternal enemy, and they were ready to leave when they realised several of their number was nowhere to be found. They combed the ruined streets in search of them, and to check if they hadn’t somehow missed an enemy hunting party, but this only led to more of the soldiers vanishing. Every so often, a corpse or two would turn up, usually but not always with stab wounds. They were ready to retreat, only to find their transport, along with their only means of long-range communication, had also disappeared. It hadn’t been sabotaged, or destroyed by some RPG - it was simply gone. Their attackers, whoever they were, were toying with them.

    c2ad had no desire to die out here. He wanted to run, and, frankly, his conditioning concurred. He was a weapon of war, but there was no tactical value in whatever they were doing. He wanted to run, but as far as they knew, the nearest friendly outpost was miles away.

    He and another soldier had left their camp, sent to scavenge for firewood and whatever other supplies might still be left in the ruins. Ideally, they would have gone out in greater numbers, just in case, but after several - c2ad wasn’t sure how many at this point - days of this fool’s errand, repeated attacks had whittled down the platoon greatly. As they headed down a street, they passed a mostly structurally intact building with its door open that was probably once a shop, and decided to check it out. As soon as they got inside, the door slammed shut, and that was the last thing c2ad saw before a thin spike somehow emerged out of what he thought was a wall and began extending towards him at a high speed, stabbing him through the heart. His comrade soon shared a similar fate at the hands of the ‘doorknob’ he’d been so desperately pulling at.

    As the two tank-grown soldiers lay on the ground and expired, both the ‘wall’ and the ‘door’ turned into sheer silver blocks, and then quickly morphed into a humanoid shape. Within seconds, they had been replaced by two beings, mostly indistinguishable from humans but for their dark grey skin, fangs, and sharp claws. Both were ‘wearing’ solid black jumpsuits with the letters ‘FC’ emblazoned on both shoulders.

    “That’s the last of the Stäbils,” said the Shifter who had been the freestanding wall, who had now taken the form of a bald male. “What now, Essi?”

    Now we wait,” replied Essi, a blonde woman. “Their leaders will have to notice at some point… and they won’t regret it.”

    -----
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by JS Tue Oct 26, 2021 8:48 pm

    [ Planet Tular Re'l, Unclassified Kanos Jai Insurgency , c. ~1700 BR ]

    All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

    A brief pause in the shardfire afforded Soraiya Aban An-Sekhari and her squad a rare moment of respite. The Yuzari ducked into the ruins of what had once been the local Ministerium Galactica as the rest of her squad followed suit; Dachori, Pasajem, Ta'har - each was a levy conscript of the Rider Empire assigned to assist Sekhari in her mission, and each was itching for the chance to sink a bolt round into her back. Their gazes were weary and suspicious, the soldiers making sure to keep their Yuzari 'adviser' in the periphery of their vision as they took the opportunity to check their weapons and reload. Soraiya paid them no mind, instead peering out of cover to survey the street ahead.

    Tular Re'l was oblivion. The Kanos Jai had, without warning or provocation, Eclipse bombed it - plunging the corpse of one of the space-faring leviathans into the planet's atmosphere, spreading a nanite plague that even now worked to assimilate and convert all carbon-based matter - living or otherwise. The sky was blackened with great clouds of soot , illuminated from below by the wildfire that seemed to consume the periphery of the capitol; the screams of the dead, the dying, and the returned echoed through shifting, breathing streets as a rudimentary consciousness seemed to take hold of the dying planet, embodying the Citadel Imperialis itself. Nanite-laden ash rained from the sky, a single inhalation of which would be fatal were it not for the Yuzari personal shields protecting Sekhari and her squad. The Yuzari Collective had been skirmishing with the Riders since long before Sekhari's birth, thwarting the would-be galactic unifiers at every opportunity; only now, faced with the first Kanos Jai attack in many millenia, had the two factions seen fit to set aside their differences.

    "By the Imperator's grace and might... the statue remains untouched."

    It was Julio who spoke - a broad-shouldered Dachori, his flesh covered with circular biomechanical ports that would have ordinarily been used to interface with his power armor; under the present circumstances, physical armor was entirely pointless, as the instant anyone's shielding failed they would simply be infected by the nanite plague and converted. Sekhari was used to fighting without armor; her compatriots were not, and looked visibly uncomfortable charging into battle in fatigues. Still, Julio was partly right; the golden statue of Acastius Verilius Jumano il Podromo did instead stand high above the city, practically glowing for all the illumination offered to it by the surrounding flames, one hand raised proudly in a salute - For the glory of Empire. Sekhari didn't have the heart to tell Julio that the only reason the statue still stood was that it was made out of gold - not the carbon-based matter the nanite plague needed to replicate and spread.

    The ground shook, and the Ta'har, Sa'xarex, looked to a datapad mounted to their forearm.

    "Seismic activity's getting worse. The Imperial Navy must be stepping up its bombardment."

    "Then we should hurry." responded Sekhari. "Prevaius Dahrk... does not have much time left."

    ---

    [ Yoon-ta ]

    Vekhta considered Kakamu's question, stroking her chin.

    "No." she lied. "I don't."

    Blackout - wherever or whoever he was - was the answer. Vekhta didn't want him to be the answer; Vekhta wanted Kakamu to be the answer, but ultimately Kakamu was right. They did need a psychic, and neither of them were up to the task. She bit her lip, then with a sigh, relented.

    "Vesa Qatoria." she said. "Vesa Qatoria's the answer."
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by SHROOM Tue Oct 26, 2021 9:07 pm

    <Planet Ahura, Drop ship DR235c>

    The Rauser-class drop ship DR235c fell like a stone through Ahura’s polluted sky, spiralling down and down, breaking apart blackened clouds.

    Helpless passengers exposed to the elements were flung from the masticated ship like shell casings, but 5f13 held on, his grip firmly on two hand-holds on the rear bulkhead. His eyes were darting around wildly behind his helmet, searching for the tanker in black and orange.

    He spotted her amidst the chaos. Crouched on the ship’s ceiling, spider-like, 7c50 was holding onto a single hand-hold between her legs. Interfacing with his HUD using his eyes, 5f13 switched his helmet to the general radio frequency.

    “7c. 7c50, do you read me?” said 5f13.

    He was filled with an odd sense of calm, even as the seconds passed by and the megacity below grew larger and larger.

    “I read you,” 7c50 replied, her voice wavering. She must have gotten a hit of that chemical cocktail, too. “What’s the plan?”

    In an incredible feat of agility, 5f13 pressed off of the bulkhead with his legs and launched himself towards a hand-hold next to 7c50. He landed on the ceiling with a grunt, gripping onto the handle with all of his strength. The drugs flowing through his veins blocked out the pain.

    “We’re going to have to jump,” said 5f13. Their suits were equipped with a number of microwave thrusters for EVA purposes, as well as a small parachute. He checked - his battery pack was full. It was possible.

    “I don’t know if I can do this,” said 7c50.

    “You were made for this.” said 5f13.

    Without further hesitation, 5f13 hurled himself towards the destroyed end of the drop ship, his EVA thrusters igniting with a mighty roar. There was no looking back. In almost no time, 5f13 was free from the falling deathtrap and was tumbling through open air. He yelled.

    Arching his back, 5f13 managed to stabilize himself. He spread his arms and legs and squinted down at the ground below. He needed to shed some velocity, else the deceleration of the parachute deploying would kill him. Gingerly, he reignited his thrusters. The blue plumes spluttered to life, and 5f13 felt an enormous weight on his chest.

    The megacity below was so dense with the action of combat that it looked almost beautiful from so high above. 5f13 checked his altitude. He had a few more seconds to deploy.

    Powering down his thrusters and interfacing through his HUD, he activated the emergency parachute. Nothing happened. He activated it again. Nothing.

    “Oh.”

    He reached back to pull the chord manually, which sent him into a spin. He pulled once, twice, three times, but nothing happened at all. Panic set in.

    Suddenly, 5f13 felt something impact him from above.

    “I’ve got you,” said 7c50 wrapping her arms around his chest. “I’ve got you.” 5f13 felt the almighty wrench of the parachute as it shot out of 7c50’s back plate. She screamed with the effort of holding him as they began to soar, hurtling above the megacity at an alarming speed. 5f13’s feet tingled as he looked down at the chaos below. No fear.

    The emergency parachute was not designed to carry two fully armed, armour-clad tankers, and 7c50 didn’t have hands free to use the steering toggles. They were falling too fast - quickly, the details of the megacity were revealed, and the high-rise buildings that were once so small became great towering monoliths.

    One such monolith grew and kept growing as a pang of dread permeated through 5f13’s body - the two tankers were falling straight towards it.

    “Shit,” said 7c50.

    A new wave of calm flowed over 5f13 as ice flowed through his veins, even as the bullets started to whizz past them. He had to think.

    “Turn on your microwaves and try to steer us into a window,” said 5f13. Igniting his own thrusters would burn her, and it was too late to avoid the building entirely. This was the only way.

    “Got it,” said 7c50. 5f13 felt the heat of her plumes as they ignited, wrenching the two tankers to the side. “We’re gonna hit the 34th floor,” her voice was intense with focus as she maneuvered them towards one of the dilapidated building’s windows. “I’ve got two hostiles inside on my HUD, gonna have to zero them.”

    “Understood,” said 5f13, drawing his sidearm. He checked the magazine and made sure there was a round in the chamber. They were close now.

    5f13 squeezed four rounds into the window pane before them just before they impacted. He braced.

    The impact hurt more than 5f13 thought it would. The glass shattered with a deafening crash as everything seemed to go into slow motion, the two tankers falling through the air like spectres. They had entered a dilapidated office building, filled with desks and ancient computers.

    The first hostile was too slow to react as 5f13 let a burst of hollow-point slugs escape his sidearm, pulverizing the yellow-clad tanker’s skull. Shards of glass shimmered behind him like thousands of tiny stars.

    7c50 managed to reorient herself into a controlled dive as 5f13 hit the ground and tumbled, crashing into desk after desk, piling them against the wall where he lay incapacitated.

    An ear-splitting crack of thunder blasted through the room as a bright blue beam of plasma scythed through everything it touched, missing 7c50 by inches as she landed into a slide.

    The second hostile in red lowered the ionic lance to charge another blast. 7c50 rose and dove to the side, narrowly avoiding the second blast, which ripped through the wall behind her like paper .

    He tried to charge a third shot, but 7c50 was too quick for him, rising from the ground to draw her two rattlers and pepper him with miniature explosive shells, which blasted a large hole in the tanker’s chest. He fell to the floor with a dull thud.

    The edges of 5f13’s vision were darkening. It must have been the come-down from the drugs his suit injected him with. 7c50 came into view, and 5f13 gave a relieved sigh. Her black armour shone.

    “Hey. Are you okay?” said 7c50. She had a beautiful voice.

    “Yeah.”

    “Guess we made it.”

    She collapsed out of exhaustion, dropping her rattlers on the carpeted floor.

    “Yeah.”

    Underneath his helmet, 5f13 smiled for the first time.
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by drj Thu Oct 28, 2021 1:47 am

    <Yari III>

    It was very fortunate Aster had activated her gunship’s autopilot, as Prevaius Dahrk was now filling her mind with a machine gun barrage of images. Her body may have been on Yari, but her mind had been launched over a thousand light years away. She saw a grand, pan-galactic crusade in its heyday. Endless legions of troops from every corner of the universe that was known to her - and quite a lot from corners of the universe she’d never heard of before - fanatically loyal to one man, a combatant seemingly as formidable as Sefer Yetzirah. (Aster had never had the misfortune of meeting Sefer, and doubted some of the more lurid accounts she’d heard - but even discounting those couldn’t help but lead her to worrying conclusions) He didn’t fight for the supremacy of his species, or for freedom, or for order, or for resources - he sought to dominate all before him seemingly just because he could, and his troops followed, spellbound and, perhaps, hoping they could one day become like him.

    Of course, one thing couldn’t help but stand out to Aster, and not just because Prevaius was taking great pains to highlight it. The advance guard of that strange crusade, the ones who spied on and sowed discord among its targets before the infantry and ships and Eclipse bombs rolled in to eliminate whatever was left, were Shifters. She - all of them, in fact - had always been aware that they bordered on being a people without history. The fact that they had no real idea what they had been before the Stäbils had always been an uncomfortable one for her and for the movement she’d dedicated her life thus far to.

    The images stopped. They were back in the cockpit of the gunship, Aster in the pilot’s seat and Prevaius sitting next to her, an expectant look on his face. The offer he was making - glory for her people, a history, with her leading the charge on behalf of yet another crusade - was obvious, even without him actually saying anything, and it would have been hard for Aster not to be tempted. But - what kind of history would it be? At whose expense would glory come? And who would actually benefit, in the end?

    “Violent delights have violent ends, Prevaius Dahrk. Never come here again.” she finally said. “I think I know what Sefer is afraid of now.”

    -----

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told>

    Sally stood in front of the mirror in her quarters, her body below the neck periodically turning a pure silver and then reforming as she switched from one ‘outfit’ to another. Board game night at Asved’s was coming up, which ordinarily wouldn’t have posed a problem, except her recent encounter with Mike and Dave was making her overthink things. It didn’t matter anyway - even if he were interested, it seemed basically impossible to pry Dave away from Mike for long enough to even have a vaguely engaging conversation, let alone for anything more to happen. She sighed, and went off to make herself a cup of tea.

    The Shifter was about to sit down, when a deep chill ran through her body as she felt a sinister presence nearby. It was a constant struggle to control her psychic abilities and avoid sensing others’ private thoughts without their permission, and while she had become fairly good at it by now, sometimes, much to Sally’s embarrassment and discomfort, a feeling would make it through anyway. This time, however, was different. It felt like she’d noticed someone surreptitiously looking at her from around a corner and then running away. Something was very wrong, and it wasn’t just the fact that she’d dropped her tea and made a mess everywhere.

    -----

    <Tanari Prime, Jones Campaign HQ>

    “What is he even doing?” David Robert Jones asked, pointing at the holo-projector.

    Jones’ question was, to be honest, a massive understatement. He was referring to Morgan Peres’ latest announcement that, in anticipation of James P. Louis’ ‘likely’ victory in the presidential election, he was beginning to lay the groundwork for entry into the New Order. So far, ‘laying the groundwork’ seemed to involve the construction of a series of pipelines designed to provide fuel to the New Order ships and installations that would be landing on Tanari Prime soon - except, while the pipelines had already been activated, those ships and installations hadn’t arrived yet, and so all the pipelines were accomplishing was siphoning massive quantities of fuel away from where it was needed and dumping it into the seas and lakes of Tanari Prime, the combination of shortages and environmental devastation predictably enraging most people. The Peres administration’s approval ratings were now in the toilet, and Louis’ campaign was starting to be hurt by the association, which they’d never asked for.

    “I just don’t understand what’s happened to him,” he continued. “He’d been a bit.. erratic before the coup, but this… He’s actually gone insane!”

    “Power changes people.” Olivia Horwath shrugged. Internally, of course, she was elated. Her plan hinged on convincing both Jones and the general public that Peres had become a New Order sympathiser, and so far it was working splendidly. “I didn’t know him for as long as you did, but the whole time I was working with him…  He’d promise me one thing one day and go back on it the next day because Veidt had leaned on him. It felt like he was trying to be someone he wasn’t. Always trying to cosy up to whoever he thought was the biggest fish, always hoping for the limelight, for some advantage...”

    “And what about you?” Jones said. “What were you hoping for when you started working with him? And with Morrison, for that matter. You’ve never struck me as someone hoping for the limelight...”

    Horwath smiled sweetly. “To serve the nation, of course. Even James August Tanar did not work alone.”

    “Of course,” Jones shook his head. As idealistic as ever, he thought to himself. “Just as long as you remember how the story of Tanar and Alfred Lyndon ended.” he added.

    -----
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Kon Fri Oct 29, 2021 10:10 pm

    <Ahura>

    It is said that almost every culture has a concept of Hell - a place where the souls of the damned go to reside after death. Etende Rhaloff had never considered herself a believer in such superstition, despite the vast and varied religions that had surrounded her while growing up on Ordon III. As someone who had spent her entire life immersed in the study of robotics, like the generations of her family before her, she only ever believed in the laws of the material world: what was possible to create, and what wasn't. Yet, the longer she gazed out at the ruined hellscape that was Ahura, the faraway bursts of weapons fire periodically illuminating the black, desolate landscape, she found herself wondering whether hell was real after all.

    Etende had only been on Ahura for two months, but it had been three years since she last felt truly alive. Back then, it seemed like she had her entire life laid out for her: a prestigious degree from one of the planet's top - albeit only - universities, and an engagement to Jarvis Silverwood, her childhood crush and an inventor whose talent far outshone her own. That all changed when Jarvis was offered a senior researcher position at Monarch ElectroDynamics, the most prominent technology corporation in the entire solar system, and he accepted without a second thought. As much as Etende hated to admit it, Jarvis had always been more interested in his blueprints than her, and she found herself being unceremoniously dumped, her former fiancé catching a shuttle to the corporation's headquarters on Ordon V the following morning. His reasoning didn't make sense to her; she remembered him babbling something about "logistics" and "timing", but whatever the reason was, it meant that the invitation off the planet was for him and him only.

    Bitter and enraged, Etende immersed herself in a world of her own inventions as a way to cope with the pain of rejection, hammering out designs that she hoped would lift her away from Ordon III, a world that now seemed to remind her only of her failures. She completed a prototype for a lightweight solar-powered exoskeleton with wings that would essentially enable the wearer to fly with the agility and effortlessness of a bird, but none of the corporations she reached out to seemed interested in the design, instead looking for inventions that were more... weaponized, due to the growing instability in the galactic region. Etende was a pacifist, seeing machines as a means to improve lives rather than end them, so she found herself tearing down her drawing board, resolving to leave the Ordon system another way.

    Fortunately, not long after she made that promise to herself, an opportunity appeared in the form of an old college friend, Kensa Udiyombe, who had since established a minor space salvage business that took him beyond the reaches of Ordon. Etende was too quick to accept his offer of a job, realizing too late that 'Kensa & Associates' was not an entirely legal affair, having a tendency to strip ships for parts while their pleading owners were being held at gunpoint inside. Still, Kensa was humane, always leaving his victims with enough fuel and supplies to get home, and Etende found herself turning a blind eye more often than not, since their victims were usually pirates and other unsavory people, not unlike themselves.

    Two months ago, Kensa informed his crew that they would be heading to the Ahura system for their biggest job yet. According to the intel he had received, the perennial war that had embroiled the system was finally dying down, leaving behind an entire planet full of damaged and discarded military equipment that would set the scavengers for life - if they could get their hands on it first. Etende's first thought was that it sounded too good to be true, which, of course, it was. The Kensa & Associates fleet emerged from hyperspace to find itself in the middle of a war that was more intense than ever, right in the firing line of the two factions that were still vying for control of the planet. The next thing Etende knew, Kensa had launched himself away in an escape pod, and an explosion had knocked her against the wall of the hangar bay. The ship's pilot - a young Vykonian who she couldn't remember the name of - sacrificed himself to steer the damaged ship into the atmosphere of Ahura, apparently hoping that its thick clouds would provide them some cover from their assailants. Etende wondered whether he had survived long enough to see that the war on the surface was even worse than the war in space.

    The ship crashed in the outskirts of what was once a bustling metropolis, judging from the steel skeletons of skyscrapers and other assorted types of high-rise buildings that touched the blackened skies. Etende was the only survivor of the crash, shielded from the impact by a makeshift exoskeleton that she had put together just for fun, unaware of how it would end up saving her life. When she inspected the corpses of her comrades, she almost wished she had died with them, but as always, her instinct for survival overrode her despair. She found that the ship's computer was beyond repair, but she managed to fix up its water synthesizer enough to generate five cups of water per day. That, together with the food rations she scavenged from the bodies, had kept her fed for the past two months, but she was finally starting to run low. She knew that it was only a matter of time before she would have to go out into the city in search of food, if not a way off this miserable planet - provided she didn't get shot first.

    Sighing, Etende walked into the crumpled remains of the ship's head, looking at her fragmented reflection in the broken mirror that was still somehow attached to the wall. The cuts that the crash had inflicted to the pale skin of her face had healed nicely, but there were still unsightly bags lingering under her blue eyes, reminding her of her poor sleep and lack of vitamin D. She couldn't exactly blame herself for that - there didn't seem to be a day-night cycle on Ahura due to the fact that the sky seemed to have been permanently blackened, which she speculated was a tactical move intended to stop the use of solar power. Etende stopped thinking for a moment to pour a cup of water over her dirty blonde hair, wringing out some of the ash that had settled into it before tying her hair back into a long ponytail that fell between her shoulders. Today was the day to explore Ahura, whether she liked it or not.

    After summoning the willpower to do so, Etende climbed up the wreckage of the ship and emerged from a hole in its side, surveying the city a few miles ahead of her. With an energy rifle on her back, a pistol in a holster on her left hip, and a combat knife in her belt, these were not the tools of a pacifist - but after all, if this was hell, then she would have to fight like it. Etende jumped down to the rocks below and began her journey towards the city, wondering whether it was possible to die again if she was already dead.
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Klak Mon Nov 01, 2021 9:51 am

    OOS: Waiting on Clay for the rest once he gets back.

    <Planet Yg-Dyspo, 1741 BR>

    Legions of Dachori infantry units stood shoulder to shoulder, all arrayed in lines. The light of the planet’s twin suns shone on the soldiers’ golden and white armor as they marched across the amber, hilly plain. Far ahead of them were the walls of an ancient city, sacred to the planet’s dominant species--the Lepudys, which were similar to humanoid rabbits. The wall may have been a holdover from a simpler age, but it was part of a complex array of defenses, including a shield dome that protected most of the city.

    A Lepudys army emerged from the wall’s gates, some operating speeder bikes to move closer to their enemies. They all stopped a few meters away from the city to create a defensive perimeter. Then, the Riders all stopped too. The warriors on the front lines pulled out shield emitters, creating large rectangular beam shields that covered the front of their bodies. Each unit broke formation by splitting in two, creating an opening behind them.

    Suddenly, another vast Rider army zoomed out of these openings, all giving credence to their infamous name by barrelling towards the enemy on speeder bikes whilst cradling pointed lances. One of these soldiers was none other than Imperator Acastius Verilius Jumano il Podromo himself, recognizable only by the all too distinct and resplendent horned helmet with a silver metallic mask that emulated an angry Dachori face, and his piezoblade scythe.

    The Riders struck down multiple Lepudys with their lances, then turned around and began to carve into the remaining army with their main blades. Acastius swung a large piezoblade scythe, reaping countless Lepudys. Meanwhile, the Dachori infantry units deactivated their shields and began to open fire on the Lepudys army.

    A Lepudys commander watched the bloodbath from atop the wall, noting that for every fallen Rider two Lepudys were killed by the enemy. He was about to order for reinforcements and anti-siege units when he noticed a multitude of Dachori bombers and troop carriers descend from the sky. He howled orders to begin preparing anti-air maneuvers and to check the integrity of the shields. But it was too late. Explosions echoed through the city as a horrific realization came over his face. The Riders had somehow sabotaged most of their defenses on this side of the city, blowing them up in anticipation of the raid.

    More explosions rung throughout the city as the Imperial Navy bombers mercilessly pelted the city. Troop formations leaped out of their ships, firing their weapons as smoke and embers burned around them. The Lepudys were soon overwhelmed.

    Hours later at the Dachori base camp, a priest stood on top of a spire, eulogizing the fallen in liturgical Dachorlin. His throaty, guttural voice reverberated throughout the area as he waved his hands high above the array of coffins below.

    Meanwhile, Imperator Acastius, sans helmet but still clad in armor, sauntered into headquarters alongside Prevaius Dahrk, both speaking to each other in High Dachorlin.

    “My apologies, Imperator,” Prevaius sighed. “My mind is still back on Tular Va’al. I was supposed to meet with my old friend Khonan Oba Rayan for a game of-”

    “Nonsense, nonsense,” Acastius interrupted. “You need to see the fruits of your labor. You see, it was your brilliance that allowed us to gaze into the Aleph Point, even for a short moment, and reveal the location of all of the enemy’s defenses. By dawn, the city will be ours. After that, this land will surrender. At this rate, the planet will be part of the Dachori Empire within a week.”

    As they entered, the entire room full of commanders, ensigns, generals, and other personnel saluted.

    “By your grace and might, Imperator, we will soon be victorious!” the herald praised.

    “The gods have cast the dice, their minds as cold as ice,” Acastius replied, beaming. “Doom comes to those who oppose our Empire!”

    The Imperator and Prevaius Dahrk sauntered to a map as the generals began to debate battle strategy. Suddenly, one general turned to the Imperator and began to chant in a language no one else understood. No one but Prevaius, that is.

    “Witchcraft!” General Scharlach di Rubrouge shouted. “He speaks the wyrd tongue!”

    The enigmatic general pulled out a knife and charged at the Imperator.

    “Not witchcraft,” the Imperator dismissed. He stabbed the general with his greatsword, but no blood poured out. Instead, the enigmatic general smiled as his skin sealed around the blade.

    “Shifter,” the Imperator smiled. He pressed a button on the sword’s handle. The Shifter’s face twisted in discomfort and pain as the blade was suddenly encased in blazing fire. He reverted to his base form, silver slime slowly melting in the extreme heat.

    “Kanos Jai….” the Shifter whispered. He looked straight into the eyes of Prevaius as he delivered his final words. “Piloznan.”  

    Prevaius gasped slightly, muttering “Kanos Jai” to himself. The Imperator scoffed then returned to what he was doing as though nothing had happened. Prevaius sulked as he stared at the Shifter’s corpse.

    Piloznan.

    A kind of creole had formed after the Arcs conquered the Shifters. It was a blend of the Shifters’ own true ancestral language, Lithan, and Yuzari. Like the Shifter ancestral language, this creole is now also lost to history. But at the time, Prevaius was fully fluent in it.

    Piloznan. A word meaning heretic.

    ---

    <Justiciar Court, ????, 17XX BR>

    Five Dachori Justiciars stood at the podium, the hologram making them appear as behemoths--even for Riders. Each wore elaborate headdresses and shoulder plates, with each face covered by a different metal faceplate symbolizing a different emotion. All five raised their arms, robes billowing.

    One Who Mocks, a Justiciar whose violet faceplate displayed a face of mirth, listed the accused’s crimes as she glared at him. The accused's lawyer, face covered in a black veil, looked downwards.

    One Who Presides, the Chief Justiciar of this particular court, stood in the middle. His faceplate was a golden face, adorned by a mustache and contorted into a sneer.

    “For your crimes, Prevaius Dahrk, you have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, then death!” One Who Presides announced, his voice echoing throughout the courtroom. “What say ye of this?”

    Prevaius, hands restrained by magna-cuffs, face sullen and pained, glanced up and slightly smirked.

    “Freedom? Imprisonment?” he rasped. “It’s all an illusion.”

    ---

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told>

    Nexus West burst into the brig, glaring at Sophie Vinderen as she passed by.

    “You let her go?!” he groaned. “Just what the hell kind of an operation do you have going on here, Praxter?! Back in the Academy we would have gotten court-martialed for this kind of behavior!”

    -

    Mavis Deacon sipped a White Russian--whatever that meant--as she quietly watched Vinderen and Lord Antivaks from afar.

    ---

    <Synching Ship Club, Third Floor, Liquid Metallicon>

    Armed guards and pirates who served Galtor and Keichi assembled at the entrance of the elevator, pointing their weapons at it. Pirate Lord Galtor snarled as he forced himself up.

    “What the hell is going on?!” he barked, pulling out a pair of blasters from a weapons rack he had on display on a nearby wall.

    “Sir, we’ve lost contact with the first floor,” one pirate replied.

    The Mediator stood up and crossed her arms, saying nothing. Keichi slammed his fist.

    “Traitor! You backstabbing slimy little….” he hissed.

    “Oh please,” Akzer groaned, rolling his eyes. “It’s obviously your own men attacking us to disrupt the meeting.”

    “Whoever it is won’t get past the second floor,” Galtor grunted. “The alarm has been rung. Each private room that hasn’t been evacuated has its own mini-arsenal.”

    Akzer nodded and held back a smile. He couldn’t laugh. He had to hold it in.

    Nice of you to join us, Sar Gaxon”, he “said” telepathically to Shepard. “Apparently, you’ll be facing a lot of resistance on the second floor, so brace yourself. I don’t care who you have to kill on the way up here, except for Pirate Lord Galtor and The Mediator here on the penthouse floor. You can knock them out, but no other harm must come to them. I have to keep a legitimate business running after all.

    ---

    Le Club, Orbit of Malchior IV

    Set quietly sipped his drink as he waited to meet with the infamous Malak al-Maut.

    -

    <The Phoenix Talon, Malchior IV>

    Klak clenched his fists, glowering at Salem. He gritted his teeth then relaxed his hands and shoulders, tears creeping into his eyes.

    “You’re right,” he sobbed. “That’s the choice he would have wanted….”

    Suddenly, ship pitched downwards, launching Klak into one of the walls. He struggled to get up, mind racing.

    Klak placed his fingertips on the wall, attempting to create a shield around the ship to help stabilize it. Meanwhile some of the staff nearby, including Presidential Guard Josiah, were instantly knocked out.

    -

    <FSA HQ, Malchior IV>

    Figlio’s veins appeared to pop out of his neck. He once again gripped the handle of his blade, cursing the Zardoz universe. He then swallowed dryly before turning to Turel.

    “Looks like you’re about to get a promotion,” he croaked.

    As Dahl spoke, Ambassador Gilclack pursed her lips then narrowed her eyes. She forced a smile to hide the stream of expletives she was about to send through her VI straight to Dahl. Later on, she expressly turned down the job post.

    After multiple more speeches, the session was temporarily adjourned for a 3 hour recess. As people started to leave, an aide walked up to Figlio and Turel.

    “Generalissimo, if you could spare a few minutes, the Secretary-General would love to speak with you.”

    Figlio slightly recoiled in surprise, then raised an eyebrow at Turel and Jerid.

    “Wonderful, we’ll join him,” he replied in surprise.

    -

    Gaius Malcovus’s office had been damaged during the FSA attack. Thankfully, crews were able to save some of his belongings, which were already being packed by robots to be taken to his new Secretary-General office. Still, it meant that he had to conduct most of his meetings in some of the conference rooms.

    Figlio sat at one end of the table, flanked by Jerid and Turel. Far at the other end was Gaius Malcovus and two of his staffers.

    “Mr. Secretary-General,” Figlio enunciated.

    “Generalissimo,” Gaius replied. “Again, thank you for joining me. It is about time we finally met.”

    “Right,” Figlio tittered.

    “I know you came all this way for a deal with my opponent,” Gaius acknowledged. “But I believe we can still arrive at a peaceful solution to the Vongolan conflict...eventually. Perhaps our mutual heritage can help soothe tensions.”

    “Hmm, yes,” Figlio tilted his head to the side skeptically, eyes narrowing. “You’re part Rider, aren’t you?”

    “On my father’s side, yes,” Gaius smiled. “It was my mother who was Pasajem. My father came from the Malcovius line, he changed our surname some time after I was born to assimilate better, and because he felt ashamed about what the Dachori Empire had done.”

    “A sentiment I assume you share,” Figlio scoffed. “I remember hearing about you now, back when my father and I started our revolution. You were part of the Galactic Government then. Representative…Malcovus...put out a statement saying we were giving all other Dachori a bad name by trying to ‘resurrect the empire.’”

    “The situation was complex then,” Gaius dismissed. “But I bear no shame in who I am.”

    “I suppose all get a little prouder when the Vrai show up,” Figlio muttered.

    “Yes, but enough about the past, Figlio,” Gaius chided. “I want us to focus on the present, and the future. It is what your father would have wanted, is it not? Or should I say, would want?”

    It wasn’t just a snarky remark masked by layers of diplomatic faux-affability. Gaius was testing Figlio to see if the rumors were true. But the latter remained stoic and stony-faced.

    “I’m not sure what you mean,” Figlio lied.

    “Regardless, they tell me that you are the pragmatic one, and that you father was more...fanatical,” Malcovus sneered. Figlio swallowed his rage and refused to take the bait. Whatever this passive-aggressive game was, he refused to continue playing it.

    “I suppose we can start by open some diplomatic channels here and there,” he rasped. “But make no mistake...the Vongolan People’s Republic will do everything in its power to defend itself from all its enemies.”

    Both forced a smile.

    “And what say you of this matter, General Jerid and Mr…?” Gaius grinned, looking right into Turel’s eyes.

    Gaius had said his piece, but wanted to get a measure of all the men that were accompanying Figlio. He had to keep things brief, as he was due for a meeting with Lazran Osvaldo Dahl later.

    -

    <Nadle’s Office, Malchior IV>

    “Pleasure speaking with you, Mr. Morrison,” Nadle said dryly as Blair left. His words and tone seemed cooperative if a bit too confident, but Nadle remained suspicious. Regardless, taking down any New Order subversives in the Tanari Confederation would be the right move, and it would be best to find new ways to work with the new government anyway.

    Moments later, a hologram shimmered to life on Nadle’s desk. It was the September Dawn leader, Qes Toh.

    Qes’s own origin was as mysterious as the organization he ran.

    Sometime during the Tanari-Takemikazuchi War, an Aquacyclopea teruganis--better known as cyclops shark--suddenly emerged out of nowhere, having somehow grown a humanoid body. This creature, looking like someone placed a cyclops shark’s head on a grey-skinned human body, approached a Malchiorian garrison. He requested, in perfect English, to be taken to Malchior, offering his services to the government. He claimed to be a bizarre Terugan science experiment, though later on, his story changed to him being a Tanari science experiment. Then to magic. Then to radiation. Then to the power of positive thinking. Yet somehow, he proved his trustworthiness to the Malchiorian Protectorate, eventually becoming the leader of the covert black ops unit September Dawn.

    Qes dragged a cigarette, smoke escaping through his mouth and gills.

    “Qes, good to hear from you,” Nadle greeted, smiling as he injected his medicine with his syringe gun. “I’ve probably said it before, but good work on the Narayanastra. I’m sorry you lost an agent, but their sacrifice was not in vain. Your team saved trillions of lives, and avenged the billions killed at Geihmurs.”

    “I appreciate it, though the mercenaries share some of the credit,” Qes blinked. “Then again, credit for that mission is complicated...anyway, I wanted to mention something to you. It’s nothing major, just a strange thing I noticed. Some of our assets have been mysteriously rerouted or have outright disappeared. No one seems to remember anything related to it. I’d send you the numbers through VI, but they still haven’t figure out how to link me up to one yet. Strange biology and all that.”

    “I don’t trust VI anyway, never got into that sort of thing,” Nadle chuckled.

    “Right,” Qes smiled. “Anyway, it’s probably some accounting error, but just in case...you’re the only higher up I’ve talked to about this.”
    “Hmm, keep me posted,” Nadle rubbed his chin. “Though it probably is an accounting error.”

    Little did they know about how these “accounting errors” were actually no errors at all. They were part of schemes of the rogue September Dawn agent only known as “The Raven,” who was now trying to arrange the assassination of President Klak Vell.  

    -

    <Transmission to Vrai Embassy, Malchior IV>

    Jefferson fingers gripped the edge of his nose bridge as he sighed. Now they would have to convince Malcovus that an FSA-OPC alliance would be in everyone’s interests. A nearly impossible task….

    ---

    <Micho>

    OOS: Theme for this section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJQQrjVmQG0

    Regina sniffed as the waiter poured her another glass of Michoan wine. She had decided to get a drink on her own while Lalli slept. It had only been a day or two since they had left the Narayanastra, so she was still processing all that went down. Ashton, Pes, and Amanda hopefully weren’t too far, but Regina imagined they were enjoying the luxurious hideout’s many amenities.

    She was about to reach the glass when suddenly, a triangle-chested alien with a creme, equine-like face and four arms forced himself upward from a table.

    Dank ferrik!” he shouted in surprise at a human who was sitting two tables ahead of him.

    The human rapidly rose up and pulled out a pistol.

    “Motherfucker!” he shouted in return.

    The alien pulled out a pistol of his own. The guests around them either screamed, gasped, or ducked for cover. Both the alien and the man shot at each other wildly, smoke filling the room. A millisecond later, both lay dead on the floor, their torsos riddled with bloody holes.

    “What the bloody hell?!” Jeris bellowed as he ran to the site of the chaos. “Oh for...The rules are perfectly clear! No fights or assassinations on property! Settle your problems outside and above ground! This is a neutral zone!”

    Jeris sighed and rubbed his forehead.

    “Everyone, please, enjoy yourselves. It’s over, everything is fine,” he announced and smiled. The guests reluctantly resumed their wining and dining.

    Two mooks, one Tinusian and one faestir, both brought up two mobile hover gurneys. Meanwhile, a Pinaculese guard dressed in a suit and tie crossed his arms at the entrance of the restaurant and bar. The Tinusian and faestir took the bodies away, with Jeris following them, muttering a stream of expletives under his breath. Regina stood up and followed them as they entered through a pair of doors and into a corridor.

    “What just happened, Baba?” she asked in confusion.

    “It’s just as I thought,” Jeris ranted. “This is the fourth time something like this has happened this year you know! Some crime boss’ goons keep picking fights or killing targets inside of my safe houses, even on other planets. At first I thought it was some local gang trying to make a name for itself, punching too high above its own weight, looking for trouble. Eventually someone would snuff them out, and it would be over. But I did a little digging, and the gang’s leader has connections all over the galaxy, going back many years! Your Pirate Lord and Vesa Qatorian friends, the Zen’tras Mafia, the Red Queen, the Gerrera Cartel, even a boss on some travelling spaceship. He’s had dealings with all that and more! He’s a big time criminal, but it doesn’t matter. If his goons try something like this one more time, they’ll be banned from my network!”

    Regina shook her head in disbelief at the nerve of this gang. She noticed a tattoo on the neck of the dead human man.

    “I take it the human was part of the gang and the Xabalo was his target,” she surmised. Jeris nodded while fuming. “O.H. Is that their gang’s symbol?”

    “No, it’s the initials of their freak boss’ made-up name,” Jeris scoffed. “Ocelot’s Hand.”

    ---

    <Kozin’s Camp, Vongola>

    “The Vongolans have mixed opinions about us,” Max-Eli sighed. “The VRF and some of its resistance allies are either wary of us or indifferent. But VRR sees us as allies, as does anyone with the slightest bit of nostalgia for the old Kingdom. As for the VPR, those who have been fed a steady diet of state propaganda--whether straight from the Armechios or from people who were somehow involved in the Vrai Wars--openly despise us. Even the K’thaan who aren’t as…politically inclined seem to want nothing to do with us either. They will see the truth once they are liberated. But first...General Kozín may be the leader of the VRF, but he is one man. The leaders of various allied resistance groups, along with those who are now officially in charge of entire territories, may push back. The governor of Tarzia, the region we are in now, is a likely foe. But the more the rebels fight alongside the Vrai, the more they’ll learn to trust us.”

    “As for Sards, from what I have heard, the Captain that Kane installed as leader has...interesting tendencies. The city’s recovery may seem promising after such a brutal battle, but I fear the old stench of Vongolan corruption may return soon. It must be why I’ve heard rumors that are already VPR spies hiding in Sards. They are part of the Vongolan Espionage and Intelligence Legion, or VEIL for short. I’ve also heard reports of a mysterious, black-armored squadron that assisted Kane in his battle. In short, everything’s sort of complicated, Inquisidora.”

    -

    <Refugee Escort Mission, Vongola>

    “Mm, understood, sir,” Luekas nodded, grabbing the cigarette and pulling out a lighter. “I’m...sorry about your brother.”

    “We’re coming up on the camp,” Blossom Nova said over the comms.
    “We’re not alone,” Dingo growled on his end. “Someone’s watching us from the outskirts of the camp, I can smell them.”

    ---

    <Lanorra>

    Admiral Quest, Peter, and Jinx all disconnected from the holo-conference.

    Peter sighed. One thing he hated the most about operations like these was acting on known unknowns and unknown unknowns. He feared that despite Quest and Anna’s assurances, there was a substantial possibility that at least one New Order ground unit would reach Lanorra’s surface, especially if multiple Arcs were involved. But they had no idea exactly who they would be facing, meaning that there was no way to predict the course of the battle based on a particular Arcs’ combat preference. In short, the allies had to be ready for anything.

    -

    <Servidora>

    Caiaphus sat in a lotus position in his private quarters as the Servidora cruised through hyperspace. A hologram shimmered to life in front of him, but he merely opened one of his eyes and glanced at it.

    “Arc Caiaphus,” Tai Kilatri greeted. “We are approaching the gsouth border of Lanorra soon.”

    “Excellent,” he smiled. “Whether Arc Zabaton arrives before us or not may determine our approach, so maintain contact with zir fleet until we arrive.”

    Kilatri bowed, and the hologram disappeared.

    “But either way, chaos will reign. Until he finds us,” Caiaphus laughed. “A wonderful joyous reunion.”

    ---

    <Socah’s House>

    A large ham that wasn’t there before fell on Socah’s head while he was reading a nice new book.

    ---

    <Old Saskana, Yari III>

    Jones Skydda poured himself a glass.

    “The look on those Continuance wankers’ faces when we finally take Yari down the right path,” he snickered as he stirred the glass.
    “But enough about politics,” he forced a chuckle.

    -

    <Aster's Location, Yari III>

    Prevaius grinned.

    "Very well, though I suppose those Shifters you dispatched while getting into this ship would have words with you." he laughed. He then seemed to swallow, as though something had suddenly given him a chill down his spine. "Or that...thing that we call a chessmaster."

    He shook it off, then smiled.

    "Ah, but I love a good paradox. Regardless, I suppose we'll meet again, Aster."

    -

    <Safe house, Old Saskana, Yari III>

    Some safe houses were equipped with elaborate, cutting edge spy tech courtesy of the generous FSA and Malchiorian defense budgets. Others were less developed, using cheaper and antiquated materials to get the job done in a more pragmatic and old fashioned way. This safe house, formed out of an abandoned tech mechanic garage somewhere near Old Saskana, was much more of the latter. Just the way Rain liked it.

    Getting “Raven”, or rather, the Shifter Enrique disguised as Raven, to the safe house was simple. Send a sum of credits, worth three months’ pay, to the Tanari cops that arrested “Raven” in exchange for them suddenly leaving their car and the prisoner unattended. No questions asked.

    Preparing for the interrogation was a little more elaborate. Rain spent the days after Aster’s apparent death simply feeding “Raven” while the latter spent time in a holding cell. No other interactions beyond that, barely a word spoken between the two. It was an old Malchiorian mind game.

    A lot had changed in the Tanari Confederation in the time after Aster’s apparent death. New elections. David Robert Jones going missing then re-appearing. New Order sympathizers. The Masketta Man trying to take over Yari (Rain wondered why he wore the mask anyway). The Nation had continued after the assassination, but it looked like things were going to get far more complicated and chaotic than Rain would have hoped. Still, he could use all this information to intimidate “Raven” into talking.

    One day, he slipped a sedative into “Raven’s” meal. After that, all Rain needed to do was to grab common tools and items and tie “Raven” to a chair.

    Rain splashed cold water onto “Raven’s” face.  As “Raven” woke up, he saw Rain seated in front of him; sans disguise, in his true adamah form. Behind “Raven”’s chair was a large tub of hot water, steam menacingly dancing above its surface.  

    “There we are,” Rain greeted, glaring at “Raven”.  “You’ve been here a while, so let’s cut to the chase. Your name is Raven Forsythe, Stäbil. Ex-Tanari military, served under Allman. Fought in the Tanari-Takemikazuchi War. After Eachan pardoned you, you became part of a political black ops unit, then the CUSP took you in as a fixer and a Special Advisor. You’ve demonstrated a lotta loyalty for a hired gun. A true believer in the cause. Assassinations, blackmail, bribery, campaign advice...you’ve been involved in all that and more. Quite a resume, Raven. But I’m concerned with one mission of yours in particular: your murder of Aster. Who paid you to kill her? Why? You’ll answer, because behind you is a tub of some of the hottest water I could find. Sounds tame, but do you really want to test it? Not exactly a relaxing swim, though I doubt you’ll be able to move anyway. And that’s just the start, I have lots of tools here, and plenty of time on my hands.”

    “But burns and broken bones aren’t the only reason you should talk. There is a target on your back, Raven. You killed one of the most popular Shifter activists in the galaxy. Every Shifter with a hair trigger temper from here to edge of the universe will probably want to see you hurt, to say nothing of the Green Helmet radicals that are going on a rampage across the planet. Meanwhile, any New Order sympathizers running around will want you dead because you’re an Allmanite. Then there’s all the changes going on back on Tanari Prime. Assuming you still have any friends left in the government, a lot of them will probably want to remain in good graces with the new regime. When they find out that the man who did their dirty work has been compromised, they’ll do everything they can to make sure their secrets are buried with you. Same thing goes for any friends you have in the Thirteen Families, and they’re the ones with pockets deep enough to hire any assassin or bounty hunter within a hundred-light-year radius. Let’s face it, you won’t leave this planet alive, much leave the Tanari Confederation. This house is now the safest place in the galaxy for you, and you can make it safer...if. You. Talk.”


    _________________
    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Tumblr_mgyuiyMerS1qfr6udo1_400

    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Dr_pav11
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by SHROOM Thu Nov 04, 2021 10:27 pm

    <???>

    The girl opened her eyes. She saw rows of great glass cylinders, stretched across the walls of a corrugated steel corridor as far as the eye could see. Hundreds of people floated naked, eyes closed and bodies twitching. Everything was tinted red.

    A hulking automaton wheeled silently down the corridor, turning its upper body left and right to scan each cylinder up and down. The girl wanted to run, to get away from the machine, but her body wouldn’t obey her. The machine was getting closer and closer. There was a grey tube stuck down her throat. She gagged, but the tube didn’t move.

    And then the machine was upon her, its large apertured eye swivelling in its socket. Sharp pain bloomed in her chest as the machine scanned her. With all her effort, she looked down to see the black characters being etched into her sternum, “7 c 5 0.”

    “Wake up,” a harsh voice behind her commanded. 7c50 turned. “Wake up and fight.” The hallway melted away. She was dazed - her thoughts were like vapour. “Fight!”

    <Ahura, megacity 05, office building>

    Suddenly, she was on her feet. One second she was in the arms of sleep and the next, she was up and scanning the office room for threats, finger on the trigger of her sidearm. Her heart was hammering. She hardly noticed the gentle hand from behind that came to rest on her shoulder plate.

    “Hey. You’re safe,” said 5f13. 7c50 gritted her teeth, shoving away the hand on her shoulder and backing away from him. She tried to squeeze a round into his face, but her hand didn’t obey her. 5f13 lifted his hands in surrender. The word “ALLY” flashed in green across 7c50’s entire HUD. Of course. How could she have forgotten? She lowered her sidearm and clutched the side of her helmet - it felt like little knives were stabbing themselves into her brain. “It's the come-down from the slowjuice,” 5f13 said, as if nothing had happened.

    “The what?”

    “Slowjuice. The stuff our suits injected us with? Thought I’d call it slowjuice.”

    “Right,” the headache was beginning to fade. She gave a sigh of relief as her thoughts became clear. “Sorry I tried to shoot you there. Bad dream.”

    “No problem. Your conditioning kicked in, that’s all,” said 5f13. 7c50’s wasn’t sure if she agreed, but nodded all the same. “I wanna show you something. Here.” He took her hand and led her to the shattered window they had broken through during their escape from the falling drop ship. “Look.”

    7c50 gazed out of the window and gasped. The city from this vantage point looked like a broken motherboard. Tracer rounds and ion trails jumped back and forth as the swarmers circled overhead like flies. It was beautiful. “What do you think?” 5f13 asked, turning towards her, but 7c50’s attention was grabbed by something close to the horizon. A massive plume of dust could be seen just over some destroyed rooftops. It was moving. She gritted her teeth.

    “Shit.”

    “What’s wrong?” 5f13 asked, but he soon followed her gaze and caught on. “Oh. Oh shit.’

    “That’s a fucking convoy.”

    ----------

    <Ahura, megacity 05 outskirts>

    It wasn’t long before Etende reached the city outskirts, the sounds of warfare growing louder and louder as she wandered through the empty streets. After a few more minutes of walking, she saw what looked like a bunch of discarded equipment on the road far ahead of her. Quickening her place, Etende approached, but her stomach turned as she got close enough to see clearly. It was a pile of bodies.

    Etende gingerly searched through the corpses, desperate to find something of value, anything that could perhaps be traded for some food. Wielding her combat knife, she pried open the compartment in a dead tanker’s back plate. Nothing. Whoever piled the bodies must have stripped them of their precious battery packs.

    As Etende got up to leave, she felt something cold wrap around her ankle. She looked down. One of the corpses was grabbing onto her. She could see his face through the gaps in his shattered helmet, pale and pleading. “Help me,” the corpse said, blood spilling from his mouth. “ Please.”

    Etende wrenched her foot away from the dead tanker’s grasp and ran as fast as she could in the opposite direction. It was enough to make her forget about her fear of the war happening around her. Adrenaline carried for a few blocks before she got a hold of herself. She took a deep breath and marched onward, taking out her energy rifle to hold at the ready.

    A bullet-ridden spider tank emerged from behind a crumbling apartment complex, and Etende froze. The tank stopped in the middle of the road, sensors swivelling, belt-fed decimators surveying the street. Keeping herself low, Etende crept behind a concrete ruin. After a few tense seconds, she heard the metallic clunk-clunk of the spider tank’s footfalls, eventually fading away into the Ahura soundscape of gunfire and explosions. Etende walked on.

    ------

    <Ahura, megacity 05>

    “The first thing you’ll notice about Ahura,” Griggs the handler had said to Cuttlefish in the minutes before they launched her coffin shuttle, “Is the smell.” He prodded her nose, grinning. “First you’ll hate it, then you’ll tolerate it, and then you’ll forget it was even there.” Griggs was right, as always. The mixture of gunpowder, ozone and blood was overpowering. Overpowering enough to stun her at first, when she emerged from the pod. She hardly noticed the stench now.

    It had been a long time since she left that pod on the blood-red fields of the Ahura countryside. Her synthetic skin had emulated that rich shade of crimson so perfectly that she might as well have been invisible. Now, her skin was tarmac black as she prowled through the streets of a decrepit city, sunblade by her side. This assignment was certainly the Eytel council’s idea of punishment. Too many times Cuttlefish had killed her marks when she was meant to capture. It was the council’s fault for sending her after so many pieces of shit who needed killing. And then there was the hearing. If she hadn’t cursed so many times directly in the faces of the council, she would probably be in a forced vacation retreat instead of this hellhole.

    A small squad of armour-clad tankers turned a corner ahead of Cuttlefish, almost close enough to spot her. She pressed herself flat against the run-down hypermart to her side and emulated its rough grey surface, grinning as the squad marched right past her. Her given name was TETRA24, but everyone called her Cuttlefish. A self-inflicted social outcast, from a young age TETRA24 hated being seen. She had her chromatophores installed at the age of 2.2. Cuttlefish. Not a bad nickname, as nicknames go. She pressed on.

    To the eytel council, the war-planet Ahura was merely an object of interest, like a pulsar or a neutron star. Something to inspect, study, and then move on from. The tanker death toll, to them, was simply a statistic. Cuttlefish crept by another group of tankers with little difficulty and gave a battered spider tank the slip, masking her heat signature with her refractor shield module.

    As Cuttlefish turned a corner into a main road, a scavenger in a curious-looking exosuit came into view. She had her blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, having the look of someone who had been living rough for a long while. Cuttlefish felt an unfamiliar pang of pity. She was considering coming out of camo and revealing herself when a trio of tankers rounded a corner opposite her. “Scav!” one of the tankers yelled, and they all raised their weapons.

    Cuttlefish streaked across the street, drawing her sunblade as one of the tankers fell back, taking several energy bolts to the face. Not a defenceless scav, then. One of the two remaining tankers turned towards the sound of Cuttlefish’s footfalls and fired a burst from his shard gun, missing her by inches as the refractor shield around her distorted her image. Her white-hot sunblade made ripples as it swung through the frigid Ahura air, hewing through the tanker’s helmet and skull as if nothing were there.

    The third tanker dove, microwave thrusters ablaze, dodging another burst of energy bolts from the scav. Waves of black and white moved across Cuttlefish’s skin in hypnotic pattern as she pursued, her own microwaves dotted across her back igniting with a crackle and boom. She cut the tanker to ribbons before she reached the ground. Landing lightly on her feet, Cuttlefish switched off her shield. She sighed as the tanker’s pieces fell to the floor.

    “You really shouldn’t be out here,” Cuttlefish said, her skin swirling. The scav was either desperate, Cuttlefish thought, or just plain stupid for venturing into a megacity alone. The scav started to reply, but Cuttlefish held out a finger as a distant growl began to echo through the empty street. Internal combustion engines. It couldn’t be. She wheeled around, quickly spotting the telltale plume of dust.

    A convoy. Heading straight for them. Every single combatant in the city would be closing in now, to attack or defend the payload of god-knows-what that was barrelling towards them at top speed.

    “We need to run,” Cuttlefish said as her skin turned yellow. “Right now.”
    JS
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by JS Tue Nov 09, 2021 8:14 pm

    [ Jared Harris City, Xoznan Peninsula, Tanari Prime ]

    "Healing is happening. Healing is here!"

    A medical camp had been erected on the outskirts of Jared Harris city, surrounded with a chain-link fence and watchtowers. In front of its main gates a podium had been erected where Bill Louis was now giving a speech, flanked by Patrick Considine, his VP pick, as well as two KT-series replicant troopers of the New Order.

    "This medical facility behind me... will offer free medical assistance to all who need it, using the advanced medical technology of the New Order. This is just a taste of what an alliance with the New Order had to offer. Cancer is cured! Disease is finished! David Robert Jones fears the technology behind me because he fears the Tanari people living long, happy lives - he thrives on misery and discontent. Well, I got news for him - this great nation will soon be healed and well!"

    As the crowd exploded into applause, KT-2837AA scanned the scene from her position beside Patrick Considine. KT-2837AA - better known to her troops as "Hocus" - was the commander of the fifty-strong guard battalion that had accompanied the New Order medical expedition from Tygenia. She shared the same basic appearance template as the rest of her replicant sisters, though unlike the majority of KT units under her command she had made no significant alterations to that appearance, with her unaltered blonde hair being tied into a loose ponytail at the base of her skull. She kept a watchful eye as the proceedings unfolded, all too conscious of the situation the expedition was in - outnumbered on what was effectively an enemy homeworld, kept safe only by the pretense that the medical expedition's presence was a legitimate component of Bill Louis's democratic campaign.

    Medical pilgrims from across Tanari Prime filtered in - desperate individuals burdened with chronic, untreatable illnesses, as well as those too poor or too insane to benefit from the existing Tanari medical infrastructure. Hocus's KT troopers kept a watchful eye on the pilgrims, suspecting that a terrorist or assassin might literally sneak in through the front door. However, things seemed to be going well, and the advanced medical technology of the New Order was proving effective, curing diseases for which Tanari medicine itself had no answer. As night fell at the conclusion of the facility's first succesful day of operation, the New Order doctor overseeing the mission looked down from one of the watchtowers and smiled... in a sinister manner.
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Kon Thu Nov 11, 2021 6:34 pm

    <Ahura>

    Etende opened her mouth to reply, only to clasp her gloved left hand over it in the next moment, suppressing the urge to vomit. The energy bolts she had fired into the face of the tanker had incinerated the front of their helmet and most of the face underneath, filling the stagnant air with the smell of sizzling flesh. Her fingers trembled as she slowly lowered the rifle that she was still tightly grasping in her right hand, too shocked by her actions to properly process the stranger's words. This was not the first time Etende had been forced to kill in self-defense, nor would it be the last, but this time was different. This wasn't a simple heist job, where she was supported by her friends and had a clear escape plan that she could fall back on in case things went wrong - this was a war, every bit the kind of war she had read about in her youth: horrific and unrelenting.

    As the adrenaline in her brain began to wear off, Etende found time to process the words of the woman who saved her, the roaring sound of the convoy's engines accompanying her thoughts. Etende looked off towards the sound, but could see nothing but an ominous cloud of dust at the end of the road on the horizon, heralding the arrival of something very fast and very large within it. Cuttlefish looked at Etende for a moment, curious to see what she would do, before darting into the ruins of a partially-collapsed building.

    "Wait!" Etende pleaded, scrambling after the assassin. The exoskeleton that Etende was wearing was light as a feather compared to most of the powered suits on the market, but it still restricted her movements slightly more than those of a person without one, and she wouldn't be surprised if Cuttlefish was also boasting some serious hidden augmentations of her own. Etende chased Cuttlefish into a large room that looked like it could once have been the lobby of some kind of office building, with dust-covered furniture and bricks from broken sections of walls scattered around the place. With Etende close behind her, Cuttlefish moved almost like a shadow, clinging to the corners of each room before disappearing through the exit of each.

    In her attempt to keep up with the assassin, Etende followed Cuttlefish into a corridor and used the strength of her exoskeleton to punch straight through a wooden beam that was blocking her path. Etende pressed on, paying the beam no mind until she noticed that it had been holding up a section of the floor above her, causing part of the building to start to collapse. Etende hurried to avoid being caught in the destruction, holding her breath when possible to avoid inhaling the dust that the collapse was throwing into her face. When the building finally settled, Etende noticed the shadow of Cuttlefish quickly turn a corner ahead of her. Sighing, Etende pursued, turning the corner just in time to see the assassin leap up a dilapidated flight of stairs, propelling herself up them almost as if she weighed nothing at all. Etende climbed the stairs as quickly as she dared to, avoiding stepping on the steps that looked like they could collapse at any moment, until she found herself on the next floor up. Upon leaving the staircase, Etende found Cuttlefish peering out of a window that was overlooking the street they had come from, focusing intently on something out of sight.

    "Wh-what's that noise?" Etende stammered, referring to the noise of the convoy as she approached Cuttlefish with caution. "And who are you? Why did you save me?"

    -----

    <Yoon-Ta>

    “Vesa Qatoria?” Kakamu asked, raising an eyebrow. Surprisingly, it was a planet that he actually had heard of - but only because it was significant in how insignificant it was. Kakamu knew Vesa Qatoria as the homeworld of Deacon Sandoval, also known as Deacon Sand - a red-haired and foul-mouthed member of the Shiroi Taimatsu who Kakamu had met when the human was in his 30s. According to his New Order personnel file, Deacon had smuggled himself off of the planet in his mid-teens in the hope of becoming a bounty hunter, intending to repurpose his wrangling skills to catch runaway people instead of animals. In the downtime between their assignments, Kakamu had overheard countless arguments between Sand and his teammate Irscha Inkar about whose homeworld was more developed. Kakamu had no idea why Vekhta would think to find a psychic there. He started to ask her, but she sighed and turned away, avoiding his gaze. Clearly, it was not something she wanted to talk about.

    A few minutes later, Muta lumbered back down the ramp that led to La Xara, coming to a stop next to Kakamu and Vekhta. His head swivelled between them, observing them both before settling on Kakamu. Behind Muta, Yoon-Ta's sun touched the horizon, casting a beautiful orange sunset across the sky despite the fact that the sun had been directly overhead only a few hours ago. Apparently, the days were short on Yoon-Ta.

    "Kakamu," Muta spoke in his usual synthesized drawl, flicking liquid coolant off his hands. "The secondary aft engine has been repaired."

    "Great!" Kakamu said enthusiastically, relieved that the repair seemed to have been much more straightforward than he was expecting. "Are you ready to leave?"

    "Yes, but... there is the matter of... the prisoners. What are your instructions?"

    "Prisoners?" Kakamu asked. "Do you just mean Motrokh, or-"

    "No. Voorak-Kah is alive."

    Kakamu nodded, returning a frown that was visible even from behind his mask. He should be surprised by Voorak-Kah's survival, but somehow, he wasn't. After all, he had seen Kah's true form: a mass of gelatinous purple matter that was barely larger than his fist, which, in Kakamu's estimation, barely counted as a living creature - and what cannot live cannot die. At best, Kah was a parasite, and parasites were nothing if not resilient. Kakamu clenched his fists, feeling a righteous anger build up inside him as the memories of Kah's crimes resurfaced in his mind, but he exhaled and calmed himself a few seconds later, releasing the anger before it could turn into vengeance. After all, that was exactly what Kah wanted: to turn him into a psychotic, unstoppable killing machine, blind to reason and justice.

    But Kakamu was not a machine. Not any more.

    Kakamu sighed and turned to Vekhta to gauge her opinion.
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by drj Mon Nov 15, 2021 8:40 pm

    <Tanari Prime, Presidential Palace, 262 BR>

    President James August Tanar had spent much of the day reviewing the news from the Constitutional Convention. He’d left the task of coming up with a new legal structure for their nation to an assembly representing the full diversity of the planet - including Shifters. It was a controversial decision, but he knew it was a necessary one if humanity were to survive in this new world. Apparently, one proposal the Convention had put forward was to name their new state ‘The Tanari Confederation’, after him. Naturally, James planned to speak out against the proposal as soon as he got a chance. It was probably that hothead Alfred’s idea, he thought. General Lyndon was a hero of the civil war that had ravaged the Colony just a few short years ago, and had become known as perhaps the most vocal supporter of the President, to a degree that made him uncomfortable. The civil war had left Tanar as about the only political figure in the Colony with any credibility, and if he’d chosen to establish a dictatorship there and then, the people would probably have accepted it.

    James opened his desk drawer, which contained an old photograph of him with a few other people, from before he or any other humans had even travelled to this planet. It was a very different time, before the Colony had given him a chance at a fresh start, and the photograph reflected that. What he was then wasn’t inherently bad - it just wasn’t him, and then as now, he wasn’t going to let anyone force him into a role he wasn’t fit for. Especially when now it would mean establishing a tyranny, and not just his personal unhappiness. He wanted balance and freedom for his people, not power for its own sake.

    He shut the drawer on that soft, sullen face, very different and yet very familiar, looking blankly up at him, and looked out the window. Before him stood a brand new city, the capital of the nation he now unexpectedly ruled. It was still growing by the day, but it was already a great city, and he was proud of it. Now that his people had been reconciled, nothing could stop them now.

    -----

    <Aluic-5, Present Day>

    As the street heaved with marchers, the air was thick with anger and paranoia. So far no one had been hurt, no property had been damaged - but if the fury seemingly hiding behind the racist slogans being chanted and waved on banners was any indication, it was only a matter of time. The targets were, predictably, the Vesa Qatorian community, and most of the mainly Vesa Qatorian inhabitants of that particular district had chosen to either lock themselves in their homes or flee for the time being upon finding out the authorities weren’t going to do anything to stop the rally.

    At the head of the march was Blair Morrison, holding up a megaphone and taking in the sight of his new followers. They were still few in number, and a little rough around the edges, but so what, he thought. He had to start somewhere, and those rough edges would be smoothed out over the course of the journey he planned to take them on - a journey of the ascension of the ordinary man.

    “Maybe if we didn’t have to feed this trash,” Morrison cried into his megaphone. “We wouldn’t have wound up relying on the New Order to heal our sick! Do we need more or fewer Vesa Qatorians in our confederacy?”

    “Fewer! Fewer!” the mob yelled back.

    “We’ll arrange that,” Morrison said. “The New Order uses Vesa Qatorian illegals to steal our elections and enslave us! And what’s happening in the outer worlds? The Vrai and Corrantians using Shifter radicals to snatch our Trilateral! There are rumours they’ve even gotten the Terugans involved! And this government of New Order-sympathisers does nothing! This is no alliance, my friends, this is partition! Tanar must live!”

    “Tanar! Tanar!”

    “Well, I have news for all of them. If David Robert Jones and I are elected, the war will continue until Sefer Yetzirah’s head is on our wall! We’ll take back the Trilateral!” he declared. “On day one of our administration, we’ll start pushing the FSA to declare war on Vesa Qatoria and every member of this so-called ‘Order and Progress Coalition’! Their sympathisers will get a week to pack their bags before we bring the hammer down. We will augment our nation… so that it may continue.”

    ------

    <Tanari Prime, Lyndon City>

    “My opponent is hoping to buy this election.” David Robert Jones said tersely. “Tanar is a proud and rich nation. Under my administration, we will not rely on charity, especially not from someone bent on the annihilation of our culture. Everyone understands that if Sefer Yetzirah were genuinely interested in helping people, she would have shared this supposedly miraculous technology with the rest of the galaxy years ago, rather than offering tantalising hints of it when it’s politically convenient.”

    The reporter sitting opposite Jones smelled blood in the water. “So, what you’re saying, Mr. Jones, is that the people being helped by this clinic should go without treatment?” he asked.

    “Of course not. No one should.” Jones spotted the trap, if probably not soon enough to prevent his response being cut into an attack ad by the Louis campaign. ”What I’m saying is that President Peres should deploy our military to seize this clinic, and if he doesn’t do it, I will on day one of my administration. Its medical technology should be studied and, if it works as well as advertised, rolled out across the Confederation.”

    “I see. Do you have any comments on the latest controversial actions of your running mate? Some are saying you’re considering replacing him...”

    Jones sighed internally. He was beginning to tire of Blair Morrison’s antics. The oligarch seemed hell-bent on carving out a niche for himself on the most radical, hateful wing of Tanari politics, no matter how much harm it did to their campaign - and the effort to keep the confederacy out of New Order hands - in the short-term. But there was nothing Jones could do - Blair Morrison’s financial resources, organisational acumen, and stash of blackmail material on senior figures in the National Continuance movement were invaluable to him, and the last thing he wanted was to create another Morgan Peres. He hated the idea, but if he wanted to win, it seemed the least bad course of action available to him was to let Morrison descend into the gutter and hope it didn’t make him too dirty as well.

    “I stand by Mr. Morrison, even if he’s liable to get carried away. The Trilateral crisis must be resolved by any means necessary, and if they do not back down, both the OPC and the Vesa Qatorian government will suffer the consequences of their interference in our affairs...”

    “Sorry, Mr. Jones, I just wanted to squeeze in one more question.” the reporter cut in. “How do you feel about the entry of a third candidate into this race?”

    No, this was not a good day for David Robert Jones at all.

    ---

    It was as much of a spur-of-the-moment decision as something like it could possibly be. Aster had convinced her to stick with her on Yari, to try and build a beachhead of resistance, but now she was gone, Yari was on fire, and Kirsten was soon left alone. She decided the best thing she could do for Yari - and to honour Aster, who she suspected would have hated it if her death had caused anyone on the side of light to down tools - was to try and get her own home out of the gutter. She smuggled herself back into the Confederation with the Inquisitor’s help, reached out to some old political contacts, and eventually found herself here, in front of a microphone, saying the words she didn’t think she’d be saying for at least another decade.

    “My name is Kirsten Bluth, and I’m running for President of the Confederation.”

    The screen behind her flashed into life, showing her slogan: ‘Fight Back’. The small crowd before her broke into applause - not that it was ever going to do anything else - giving Kirsten time to think before continuing. “I’m running because this nation has lost its way. A small clique of deserters, crooked businessmen and sketchy talk-show hosts took over Tanar in a military coup, and we just rolled over. Even David Robert Jones, once the so-called Voice of the Resistance, has given up resisting. He’s surrounded himself with the same old NatCon crew, and let them write his platform for him. His actual friends would be ashamed of him.”

    “Tanari citizens are being brutalised on Yari, and we’re doing nothing about it. The New Order is threatening to extinguish freedom across the galaxy, and we’re debating whether or not to sign up. The confederacy needs a third choice - a choice for those of us who want to fight back.”

    -----

    <Yari III, Horba City>

    It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Richard thought to himself as he walked through the empty streets of the city he now as good as owned. He’d expected terrified Stäbils, yes, but he also expected his people to be grateful for their liberation. Instead, the Green Helmet-run areas of Yari had completely juddered to a halt for now - the populace was simply terrified of their apparent new overlords. An eagle-eyed observer might have noticed more birds in the sky than usual - Shifters leaving their dwellings to look for supplies without being noticed - which told its own story. Maybe they just needed time, Richard thought, to get used to the idea that they weren’t servants anymore, but masters in their own home.

    In the distance, some sort of scuffle seemed to be in progress between a group of Green Helmets and a few citizens blocking their entrance into a building, and Richard decided to walk over and intervene. Part of him wanted to feel like the prophet-king he’d been dreaming of becoming ever since his resurrection, and maybe part of him was just bored.

    “What seems to be the problem?” he asked the Green Helmets.

    “Supreme Leader!” their apparent commander replied, as all of them saluted awkwardly. “We were trying to retrieve a Stäbil fugitive, but these men will not let us.”

    “The man has done nothing wrong,” one of the citizens, a Shifter in the form of an older human with green skin, said. “I can’t let you go on killing in my name.”

    Richard’s eyes narrowed. A rage welled up deep within him, and a wave of Void Magic spread out from where he was standing, incinerating first the older Shifter and then the entire building behind him.

    -----

    <Yari III, Rain’s Safehouse>

    Enrique sat silently for a moment, considering his options. Rain hadn’t figured out he was a Shifter, which gave him one huge advantage. ’We can always tell!’ What a fucking joke, he thought to himself. In theory, he could catch the adamah by surprise, and escape easily… unless he had other tricks up his sleeve.

    He wasn’t sure how long he’d already been in the safehouse - Rain had done a good job of making the days blur into one - but it must have been several days. He had no way of knowing if Rain was telling the truth about everything that had gone on in the meantime, so he had to rely on his intuition. His intuition told him that if everything had gone well, the Green Helmets should have been in control of much of the planet by now, which suggested they might not have been particularly bothered about looking for him, and he was screwed. And if things had gone wrong and the uprising had been beaten back, he was even more screwed, and the woman who was probably the only person able to bail the Shifters out after Richard’s failure was dead at his hands.

    Had he actually gotten anything out of this, at all?

    “Impressive, sir. Except I’m not Raven Forsythe.” the Shifter said, as his face morphed. “My name’s Enrique. I’m with the Green Helmets. Supreme Leader Branley had me infiltrate Von Budberg’s campaign team so we could use them to wake up the rest of our people. Raven was supposed to kill Aster, but he failed… so I stepped in.” He put his head in his hands. “And now I’m starting to think I’ve made a huge mistake.”

    Suddenly, Rain’s communicator, lying on a nearby table, burst into life, playing an old Malchiorian song that had once been used as a code during dealings between Malchiorian Intelligence and the anti-Allman Tanari resistance over an encrypted frequency. A woman’s voice then followed. “Malchiorian agent, this is Vigeland. Do you copy? Cavalry en route from Sukhonia.” she said.

    -----

    <Yari III, Old Saskana>

    Once Prevaius Dahrk had finally gone away, Aster could relax - in theory. No such thing was possible in reality, not under the circumstances and certainly not for her. Her thoughts turned to Richard. Everything she’d done to protect her people and her movement from him and his ideas, up to and including shooting him in self-defence, had seemingly made the Richard problem worse. However irrational it was, part of her couldn’t help but blame herself. Maybe she was too quick to shut people out. Maybe she ran the risk of making that same mistake again, again with disastrous consequences.

    No, she said firmly to herself. He made his own choices. Not everything can be your responsibility Though, of course, that did in turn raise the question of Blackout. Richard had only become more power-hungry and bloodthirsty since his resurrection, which was somehow Blackout’s doing just like hers was. Had she done the right thing by effectively putting herself at the Void’s mercy? Would the same thing happen to her? She could only hope she’d prove better at resisting any such impulses than Richard did. She had to keep going, after all.

    The gunship approached Old Saskana. Beneath her, an unusual number of Green Helmet troops appeared to be surrounding a villa, and Aster wondered whether or not she should investigate, just in case it turned out to be Rain and the others.

    ---

    Peter North suddenly walked into the room, followed by Mett. Shae shot out of her seat and scampered up to him.

    “Gods, Peter! Where have you been?” she asked.

    “I was in the park.” Peter replied. “I had to help out with some trouble…”

    “With what? A NatCon?” Shae cried. “Peter, Aster is dead...”

    “I know,” Peter said sullenly. “That was the trouble.”

    Shae turned back to Jones Skydda. “Well, I suppose you’re delighted now.” she said. “It’s all up to you now.”

    Mett had hitherto stayed silent, but this was getting too much. He could have gone along with Kirsten to Tanari Prime or with the Inquisitor to Sukhonia, but instead for some reason he chose to follow the man whose inaction had allowed the NatCons to take over in the first place. Now he was stuck with him and Shae Eachan, who were speaking to each other, like characters out of a poorly-written play, as well as mass murderer Shield-Man Jones, who was chilling and drinking champagne. “I’m sorry, but what the hell is going on here?” the Shifter said, pointing at Skydda.

    “Mett, I can explain…” Shae began, when suddenly several vehicles pulled up outside the house, one of them pointing an extremely bright searchlight in their general direction.

    “COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP!” someone outside yelled. “By order of Supreme Leader Branley, you are all under arrest!”

    -----

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told>

    Praxter narrowed his eyes as the annoying Malchiorian began to accost him. On the one hand, the idea of Nexus West being the spy seemed too obvious to be true. But with no other leads thus far, a man who insisted he was actually a high-ranking officer, even though none of the actual officers had ever heard of him, had to be considered a prime suspect. “Funny you should ask,” he said, as several guards suddenly stepped into the room and surrounded West. “As of right now, you’re being detained on suspicion of espionage.”

    “I do hope you’re going to resist,” Prush said, holding up an electro-baton.

    ---

    As Mavis sipped her White Russian, two drunken men suddenly got into a fight right in front of her. At the same time, an avian being flew over her, dropping a tiny device into her drink.

    ---

    Elsewhere on the ship, a man stood on a bridge overhanging a wide corridor, waiting for his target to pass underneath.

    -----

    <Malchior IV, FSA HQ>

    Turel looked Gaius in the eye. “Turel Karosh.” he tersely introduced himself. “All the diplomatic channels in the FSA haven’t stopped a single Vongolan dying yet. I’ll admit, I don’t know much about Dachori history. If you’re all so afraid of the Vrai... how come Kozin and the fuckin’ Diamond Dogs are still on your payroll, hunting down our people?

    ---

    Sitting in a waiting area near the new Secretary-General’s office, Lazran smiled faintly as he registered Gilclack’s refusal. On the one hand, it was a shame, as he would have enjoyed bossing her around, but on the other, her turning down the job played into his hands quite nicely. Within hours, many journalists and Xwitter influencers throughout the major worlds of the FSA had started pumping out articles and posts which criticised the Malchiorian government as ‘sore losers’ while praising Malcovus and Dahl. All of them were, in one way or another, secretly under the influence of Blair Morrison’s organisation.

    -----

    <Micho>

    Amanda walked into the room, seemingly alerted by the gunshots. Her hair was still wet after a shower, and she'd clearly gotten dressed in a hurry.

    "Ocelot's Hand..." Her mood visibly darkened upon hearing Jeris speak the name, and she suddenly grabbed him by his lapels and screamed in his face. "GET THEM THE HELL OUT OF HERE! NOW!

    Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing to stare at Amanda, and several mooks launched themselves at her to try and get her off of Jeris. “GET THEM OUT OF HERE!” she continued screaming as they restrained her. “THEY’LL KILL YOU! THEY’LL KILL US ALL! GET THEM OUT OF HERE!”

    -----

    <Lanorra>

    The Free Tanari Army set about preparing for the impending assault.

    -----

    <Vongola, Refugee Escort Mission>

    Sergei nodded slightly in response, then mumbled something in a foreign language under his breath as the convoy rolled into the camp, where a tall, imposing man with long, silver hair was already waiting for them. He got out of his ATV, and the two shook hands.

    “Sergei Mikurin.” he introduced himself, as the other mercs got out and began setting up their gear.

    “Pleased to meet you. I am Vallerand, of the Foundation.” the man replied. “How many contractors have you brought?”

    “Only around fifteen, but armed to the teeth.” Sergei lit another cigarette, and offered one to Vallerand, who happily accepted it.

    “Thank the Stars,” Vallerand sighed. “There was an… incident a few days ago. I’m almost certain the VPR is preparing to attack us now. I suspect you arrived in the nick of time.”

    Sergei leaned in closer. “What sort of incident?” he whispered so the other mercs wouldn’t hear. “Was it to do with the girl?”

    “So, Drex told you.” Vallerand raised an eyebrow and took a drag of his cigarette. “I suppose it was to be expected. Follow me, Mr. Mikurin.” He walked off towards a nearby tent, and Sergei followed.

    The whole scene couldn’t help but arouse the suspicion of the other mercs. One of them walked up to Luekas, Blossom Nova, and Dingo. “I wonder what they’re doing,” she said, gesturing vaguely at their superiors. “Because I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all.”

    -----

    <Vongola, Kozin’s Camp>

    “I see,” the Inquisidora said. “I’d like to meet this governor as soon as possible. Perhaps I can convince him of a few things. And then… I think I want to go to Sards.”

    -----
    JS
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by JS Mon Nov 22, 2021 10:59 pm

    [ New Order Humanitarian Outpost, Jared Harris City, Tanari Prime ]

    Psymancers were the New Order's wind vanes. And there had been a change in the wind.

    Arms behind her back, Hocus slowly paced the courtyard whilst sentinels kept watch on the walls high above. It was the middle of night, and the camp was quiet; most of the doctors and patients asleep, most of the KT soldiers in their barracks. A faint murmur of vocalization sounded from the radio on Hocus's chest rig - a watchman, reporting in. No movement. All clear. Though tensions were high, the overwhelming hostility of the outside world had not yet brewed into open conflict. But it wasn't the outside world that was keeping Hocus from sleep tonight.

    Ever since the completion of the Conduit - some weeks before Hocus's own date of manufacture - the Psymancers had evolved. Long had they served as the navigators and scribes of the New Order, but as of late their actions took on an air of mysticism - of prescience. Hocus had heard rumors on the wind. Some said that Keylana kept choirs of Psymancers, allowing her to plot out future events and schemes in immaculate detail; some claimed that the downfall of lesser Arcs was that they had turned their nose up at such superstitious nonsense and failed to utilize it to its full potential. It was not Hocus's place to question the decision of an Arc, but to her eyes the actions of the latter category were entirely proper regardless. The New Order would be one of science and progress; not superstition, and never religion.

    But the Psymancers speak of the Emperor in religious terms. They speak of her as a...

    Hocus's jaw clenched. She paused. She turned, and made her way towards Psymancer Madzimoyo's tent; she would know it by the growing smell of incense. She turned down one path, then another, through a pre-fab gate demarcating the outer limits of the camp's civilian area. Nestled between a set of barracks buildings was an eight-posted tent like some battlefield encampment of yore - standard issue military olive drab, with tokens and offerings left by its front door. The religion of the Psymancers - the worship of the Emperor - had gained adherents even outside the blue-skinned ranks of the Psymancers, but the hand of the New Order had not yet come down to smite it. Hocus stepped towards the tent, and the fabric shuffled as another KT trooper emerged, dressed in a black vest and olive fatigue slacks. Praxis. All KT units possessed an automatic intuition as to the identity of any other KT trooper in their sight - a necessity for an army of biologically identical clones. The look on Praxis's face was one of a deer caught in headlights; she stood to attention, saluting. Hocus returned the salute curtly, but paced closer.

    Substance 1984. It had many names; Substance, Cobalt, PsyTrooper Blood. The latter was arguably the most accurate. On Kharabad, only the strong survived. The rejects were drained, and their cobalt blood instead served the New Order as the facilitator of psychic evolution in otherwise non-psychic beings; it afforded Psymancers their vast powers of telepathy, dying their skin blue in the process, and allowing them to communicate with one another over hundreds of light-years instantaneously. It was an advantage in the war that the Free States had no equal for. Given that consuming Substance would turn an uninitiated being into a mindless thrall, it was also an advantage that Hocus knew the Free States had little chance of ever catching up with.

    That did little to explain why, given the blue shadow around her eyes, Praxis had been consuming it. The junior officer looked nervous. Hocus considered the situation; there was no prohibition against KT troopers ingesting Substance or even becoming Psymancers, and arguably Hocus felt more confused than annoyed - surprised that even Replicants like her could be affected by it.

    "At ease, Lieutenant."

    Praxis nodded, and shuffled off into the night. Hocus made her way into the tent, still mildly startled by the experience. Madzimoyo sat behind an assortment of trinkets and books - chiefly the Book of Sefer, opened to its first page. Such meaningless theatrics.

    "A minute of your time, Psymancer."

    Madzimoyo nodded warmly, outstretching his hands. The Psymancer was human, with an Africa appearance, blue-skinned like all fully evolved Psymancers. His black dreadlocks were pulled into a loose bundle behind his heads, and over his standard issue fatigues he wore a simple purple vestment.

    "You have my undivided attention, Hocus."

    Hocus's eye twitched. Her callsign wasn't actually written anywhere on her uniform. She sat down across from the Psymancer.

    "I don't want you speaking of your religion to my troops. They're under enough stress as it is. They don't need fairytales about-"

    "That's not why you came here, Hocus." interrupted Madzimoyo. "I see all things. I see what is on your mind, and what has been on your mind since we arrived on this world. I see what plagues your dreams and keeps you from even a hint pf sleep. Speak truthfully, my friend." he added, smiling. Hocus's eye twitched; she felt her blood boil. But the Psymancer was right.

    "You possess the gift of prescience." responded Hocus, curtly, in a manner that was halfway between a statement and a question. Madzimoyo nodded slowly.

    "By Her grace, yes. I am granted glimpses of That Which Is To Come."

    "But you acknowledge that prescience is in direct contradiction with the laws of observed reality?"

    "The laws of observed reality were not written with the expectation that a being like Sefer Yetzirah may come to pass." he replied. Sefer Yetzirah. He spoke the name so delicately - as if each syllable held with it the weight of prophecy. "But we are saved. And those laws are now merely suggestions."

    "How... accurate... are these glimpses?"

    A fatherly grin took hold of Madzimoyo's face. "Never wrong. Not even slightly."

    Hocus considered his words, pinched the bridge of her nose, then stood up to leave. Before she could, Madzimoyo's voice rose again.

    "Tell me of your visions... Sefsaya. Tell me of that which you came here to discuss."

    Sefsaya. The religion had a vocabulary all of its own, and in an instant, Hocus was now a component of it - Sefsaya, one who is granted visions by the God-Emperor. The word repulsed her, if only for the fear that it may be an accurate description. Hocus had drowned herself in sleeping pills until she could barely shoulder her rifle, yet still the visions persisted - any medical explanation had gone out of the window long ago. Either PLUTUS had conducted some cruel trick - weaving a thread of insanity into the light of her consciousness - or there was truth to her visions after all. Hocus turned back, fists clenched, her face awash with an emotion KT troopers were not commonly known to display.

    Fear.

    "The Emperor has not been seen since the war meet on Tygenia, months before my birth." began Hocus. "I have never known a New Order governed by her in anything other than spirit. I see a power vacuum forming; I see battle lines being drawn. With Sefer returned to Bendu, no new PsyTroopers can be produced. My sisters and I are raised to serve as their replacement, and in the darkness, I see Arcs raising armies of their own. I see Kyydan weaving together forces of his own twisted design. I see a battle on Lanorra that is not designed to be won, or more accurately, designed not to be won - Arcs sent to their deaths by their supposed friends and allies."

    Madzimoyo rose.

    "You see the New Order splitting in two?"

    Hocus responded with a facial expression that could only be accurately described as: You have completely misunderstood what I am describing.

    "I see a crucible - the rationalism, the science, all burned away by religious fanaticism. The Emperor was a person, but now she is an idea, and an idea is a stone's throw from a God. It's not that I fear that the New Order will break; it's that I fear it will become unbreakable, and will wage a holy war with no end. I can see the writing on the wall. I see a galaxy drowned in flame, Madzimoyo. I fear that what we're doing here - now - is laying the groundwork not for ten thousand years of peace but for ten thousand years of violent conflict. I fear what we're turning into, and I fear what we already are."

    Madzimoyo nodded, then picked up the Book of Sefer, gently, from the ground near his feet.

    "I have seen it too, Sefsaya." he responded, calmy. "I have seen another world's torment. Another Sefer. Another Klak. A universe so similar to our own yet so vastly different, consumed in flame and shadow and war eternal. Some of those that move in this world have counterparts in that one too; and some of those that move in that world have counterparts in our own. To be a Psymancer is to know this."

    "There must be some chance that my dreams are false. I am not a Psymancer."

    "No, Hocus. You are a Sefsaya. And the visions you see of the future are as true as the memories you hold of the past. Do you know what is written, Hocus, at the opening of the Book of Sefer?"

    Hocus nodded, reluctantly.

    "All of this has happened before." she replied. "And all of this will happen again."

    ---

    [ Yoon-Ta ]

    Vekhta considered Kakamu's question carefully.

    "Yuzari law views executing a captive as haram. But it's a... little more open to interpretation when it comes to what I have in mind."

    ---

    [ Krace, Orbit ]

    The La Xara exited FTL for an instant, a flash of white light briefly illuminating the underside of its hull as it jettisoned an escape pod, before turning around and shooting off back towards Vesa Qatoria. The escape pod containing Kah and Motrokh spun, tumbling as it hit Krace's thick, toxic atmosphere, a white-hot glow forming around it. It angled itself for re-entry, firing its retrograde thrusters, cutting through the sky and lighting up the underside of the cloud layer as it cooled. On the ground, a thousand Kracian warriors stood in formation, undergoing bloodletting rituals to the beat of war drums. The streaking escape pod shot above them, provoking a pause in their ritual. A sign. They stood up, reaching for arms and armor, preparing for battle. Outsiders had arrived on their world, and outsiders were going to die.

    ---

    [ White Table Research Base, Bantam Peninsula, Malchior IV ]

    Set waited in space for a meeting that would never happen, as on the planet far below him, a trap had been sprung.

    White Table was a secret research base, de jure operated by the Malchiorian scientific community but de facto operated by September Dawn. Or, as its researchers had realized in the milliseconds after Il Corvo took control of their systems and vented the atmosphere, de jure operated by September Dawn but de facto operated by The Raven.

    Red emergency lighting still illuminated the corridors as The Raven made their way towards the primary containment chamber, the bodies of asphyxiated scientists and guards laying motionless on the floor. This undertaking had been months in the making; an AI had been implanted into White Table's network that had intercepted and modified practically every communication within the facility; scientific reports and purchase orders had been altered, instructions had been doctored, and schematics doctored to such an extent that the scientists had no idea of the true nature of the device they were building. Now that it was complete, The Raven had disposed of them.

    In the central electromagnetic laboratory, Malak al-Maut hung in place, trapped within a quantum containment unit built specifically for the purpose. The dazed being glanced around the room, catching a glimpse of the Raven's silhouette through the observation window. Malak could not tell if they were male or female, tall or short - to look upon The Raven was to see a blur, and to hear them was to hear a voice devoid of gender or accent, but dripping with ornery glee.

    "I trust your accommodations are not too uncomfortable?"

    "Release me from this cage, and I would be delighted to leave a review."

    The Raven shuffled behind the glass, pressing a button. Unimaginable pain filled Malak's body, and he writhed about, screaming. The pain stopped.

    "I do not think I will be taking you up on your offer." replied The Raven. "But rest assured, my demonic friend; your treasury - your armory - will prove most useful to the Free States Alliance. The New Order will soon be but a memory. As will you."

    Deeper within the facility still, The Raven entered into a room with a small transparent vat, containing a flesh-colored pool of viscous liquid. As The Raven approached, the lights rose, and the liquid began to writhe and contort as if a living being - struggling to take humanoid shape, but instead settling on some cruel mockery of a human face, pressed up against the inside of the glass that contained it. A man - old, tired, beaten.

    "What... have you done to me?" it asked, its words a blubbery, sloppy approximation of human speech. "What... have you turned me into?"

    "I'm surprised that you do not know a Shifter when you see one, especially given your supposed hatred for them... Mr. Eachan."
    Kon
    Kon
    The Chronicler
    The Chronicler


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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Kon Fri Nov 26, 2021 6:04 pm

    <???>

    Once again, Kakamu found himself lost in a dark place, surrounded by a featureless void. Faint sounds tickled his ears as he drifted through the darkness, whispering his own thoughts back at him. He exhaled in frustration and tuned them out, trying to focus on the void rather than the sounds it produced. Even now, after all this time, he still sometimes struggled to sleep.

    In his youth, Kakamu had been conditioned to view sleep as a kind of surrender: a point at which his body and mind could no longer tolerate the pressures of the world and retreated into unconsciousness. For generations, Tekkui had lived on the brink of death, where succumbing to weariness at a critical moment meant falling down and never getting back up. The Tekkui were strong and fast, but the beasts whose lands they inhabited were stronger and faster; always on the hunt, always without mercy. The beasts were tame now, domesticated by some miracle that happened when Kakamu was still young, but he would never forget their rage, nor the color of their possessed eyes. He had spent many nights living in fear of those glowing red dots that seemed to exist only to chase him down, burning red holes in the black shadow that the great Tekku cast over their world on hunting nights.

    As Kakamu found himself taken by this thought, a similar red light appeared in the distance of his vision, seeming some distance away. Feeling more curious than fearful, Kakamu approached it, weightlessly drifting towards the dot. As he came closer, he realized that the light was no more than a simple campfire that was illuminating the hollow window of the wooden hut that it had been lit within. A sudden wave of calm flowed through him upon seeing the fire and the gentle flickering of its flames. In many ways, fire was his oldest friend. It was fire that had shielded him from the beasts in his youth, fire that had kept him warm at night, fire that had cooked the meat that kept him fed. His natural element.

    But before Kakamu could reach the hut, he collided with the surface of a memory.

    -----

    <Nil'nara, 32 BR>

    A familiar world began to take shape around Kakamu, planting his feet on a clearing of dry earth. A dense forest sprouted from nothingness and surrounded him, with wild undergrowth tangling itself between the bases of the massive trees that stretched high into the night sky. As Kakamu looked up, he saw a gentle moonlight fall upon the area between the disorderly clusters of vines that connected the trees together, cast by a large white moon overhead. Kakamu stood there for a while, feeling the gentle breeze against his skin, instinctually bathing in the dim light of Inoxos. In his childhood, nights that featured an appearance from Inoxos, the sixth and outermost moon of Tekku, in the sky, had been safer than nights without it. The beasts that had hounded him and his clan seemed repelled by its light, somehow -- or perhaps they just preferred to attack on darker nights, knowing that the Tekkui were defenceless when enveloped by Tekku's shadow.

    After a while, Kakamu's thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of stones scraping against each other. At their source, Kakamu saw a male silhouette crouching over a spot on the ground, cursing under his breath in their native tongue. As Kakamu approached him, the figure seemed to grow larger and larger, until Kakamu realized that it was not the figure getting larger, but himself getting smaller. Upon looking down at his body, Kakamu noticed that his hands - which were little more than glorified mechanical instruments, consisting of pistons and plating instead of flesh and bone - had become organic, transforming into the red-skinned hands of a child. The silhouette exhaled in frustration and turned to face Kakamu, his mood seeming to brighten along with his face upon coming into the light. This man looked younger than he had when Kakamu had last encountered him in a dream, but he still bore the appearance of an aging Tekkui tribesman, with wrinkles set heavily into his brow and greying hairs sticking out of his scraggly brown beard.

    "What is it, father?" The child Kakamu asked, tugging on his father's leg. He was vaguely aware that this dream was, in fact, a memory, but his lucidity diminished the longer the memory progressed. Thoughts of Vekhta, Voorak-Kah, the New Order, and the Arokazek vanished from his mind, becoming like dreams themselves to the mind of his child self. Kakamu remembered this moment - this night with his father under Inoxos's beams - and that was allowing him to relive it, somehow.

    Kaulan grimaced and turned back to his work: scraping two stones together over a bundle of sticks. His expression slowly turned to one of anger as the stones produced nothing, prompting him to scrape harder and harder until, eventually, a spark flickered into existence, landing on one of the thin sticks atop the bundle. Kaulan laughed in relief as the tip of the stick burst into flames, which quickly spread along its length. Kakamu was amazed, coming as close to the fire as his father would let him, watching the orange light dance along the wood. It was far from the first time he had seen someone light a fire, but every time was just as magical as the first time somehow. Fire was something that seemed to defy Kakamu's reality: a bright, ever changing form of energy that could be seen, but could never be held. "How did you do that, father?" Kakamu asked, tugging on Kaulan's leg again while the elder sat back on the dry ground and admired his handiwork.

    "Sheer anger," Kaulan joked after pondering the question for a moment. "If you get angry enough, that anger eventually comes out of you as fire."

    Kakamu frowned, his young face scrunching up into an exaggerated portrayal of scepticism to show his father that he was not convinced. There had been plenty of times where he had been angry, but it had never come out of his body as fire before. "Are you sure, father?" he asked, staring inquisitively at Kaulan with his wide, purple eyes, as if staring itself was enough to procure answers to all his questions.

    "Kakamu, you know better than to question your elders," Kaulan replied with a smile. He picked up his child by the shoulders and seated him on the ground next to him. As Kakamu got comfortable on the ground, Kaulan ruffled his hair. "Besides, that's what happened, isn't it? I got angry, and then came fire," he said, gesturing to the fire in front of him. "What other proof do you need?"

    Still frowning, Kakamu turned to watch the fire. He sat in silence as it slowly consumed its fuel, leaving streaks of black wherever the flames touched the wood. With nothing else to occupy his thoughts, his young mind began to dwell on the beasts that were hunting his people, and his friends who had fallen victim to their vicious teeth and claws in the darkest of nights. His thoughts strayed onto the Ancients, the subjects of the oldest story the Tekkui ever told, a tribe who were prophesied to unite all others and return them to their promised land: Tekku. Home.

    "What happened to the Ancients, father?" Kakamu asked. He had heard the story of the Ancients many times, and it always ended the same way, but everyone seemed to have their own interpretation. Some believed that the Ancients would return in less than three decades, once they had summoned enough strength to bring the Tekkui home. Some believed the Ancients had died, exhausting all sources of energy, including their own life force, in their effort to transport the Tekkui from their own world to its moon, Nil'nara. Others believed that the Ancients were still out there, somewhere in the mortal realm, but had moved on, vanishing through the infinite darkness and into the planes beyond.

    "Who knows?" Kaulan sighed, looking up at Inoxos. "Maybe they just forgot. Maybe they just... got lost."

    Kakamu bowed his head, his father's words saddening him more than he knew. For Kakamu's entire life, the Ancients had been one of his only sources of hope that his life would ever change, that their lives would ever change, and that they would all be able to live in harmony one day. He sat in silence for a while, his head turned towards the stars, wondering if there was anyone else who lived beyond the infinite dark - anyone else out there who could come and save them. The distant howling of a nocturnal animal interrupted his thoughts; only one of the harmless creatures of the night, but when Kakamu jolted back to attention, he realized that he had made a decision.

    "I'll master it, one day," Kakamu muttered, talking to himself as much as his father.

    "What's that?" Kaulan asked, intrigued.

    "I'll master fire," Kakamu said louder. Anger surged through him as images of beasts flashed through his mind, crouched over the bloodied bodies of his friends, with Kakamu powerless to do anything to save them. "I'll figure out how to master fire, so I can save everyone!" he declared, standing up. "I'll use it to scare away all the beasts and keep everyone safe! Nobody will have to die cold or hungry, huddled around a useless bundle of sticks, because I'll be there to make fire for them! And the Ancients... when I get good enough, I'll light the biggest fire ever, so big even the Ancients can see it! That way they'll have to come back!"

    Undeterred by the growing flames, the child stomped the earth with his foot, setting a dry plant aflame as it was pushed into the fire. "Maybe I just need to get angry enough," Kakamu continued, tears welling in his eyes. "Maybe I just need to focus... maybe I just need to wait until I'm as big and strong as you... but fine! I'll figure it out, one day! With or without the help of the Ancients!"

    Kakamu's father laughed as his son made noises as though he were repeating Kaulan's own words back to him. "I said those exact words, once." Kaulan's brow furrowed as he cupped both hands and blew, his breath momentarily parting the flames. Kakamu watched angrily as the flames shimmered, almost as if they were struggling to come back together for a moment, before they reunited and surged even stronger than before. "I said those words, too. But I'm only one person, Kakamu. I can't light fires big enough to save everyone. Nor can you. We're all but specks, compared to the immensity of the stars."

    "But I can't stand it!" Kakamu protested, defiantly gritting his teeth as a tear trickled down his cheek. "I hate it here, father! I hate the other tribes! I hate the Ancients! I hate the beasts! I hate all of this! I just want it to stop! If we had fire all the time, it would stop!"

    Kaulan frowned, his eyes falling disapprovingly on his upset son. "Fire protects," he said simply, grasping Kakamu by the scruff of his neck and pulling him away from the fire. "But fire burns. There's a reason I don't let you get too close to it. There's a reason why we don't light fires in bushes or trees. Look at how the flames move. Are they moving with any kind of order or purpose? No, they are not. You can't control fire, Kakamu. You can only contain it. What would contain a fire that spread across the world? What would happen to all of us who live in these forests?"

    Stepping closer to the fire, Kaulan leaned down and scooped up a pile of warm ash, unfolding his hand in front of Kakamu and letting the ashes run through his fingers. "The world would become this. Is that what you want?"

    "Maybe I do!" Kakamu shot back, the wet tears against the red skin of his cheeks appearing to shine in the firelight as he ranted. "We don't belong here! This world isn't ours! You don't understand how I feel, father! The Ancients... they betrayed us! They said they were going to save us, but instead, they brought us here!"

    Kaulan sighed, looking down at his son. He was slowly growing bigger, and in a few years, he would be approaching his adolescence. His skin was still smooth and wrinkle-free, and his body hadn't yet begun to transform, but his mind was slowly changing. Eventually, it would take over and all traces of the child he once was would disappear. It was unfortunate; Kaulan hadn't taught him everything yet, and it grieved him to know that Kakamu would have to learn many things the hard way. As Kaulan considered his response, a realization of his own dawned upon him.

    "Fire is a lot like anger, my son," he said gravely, putting a hand on Kakamu's shoulder. "If you fail to control it, it'll burn anyone and anything it touches, including yourself. It can be used as a tool or as a weapon, or a weapon and a tool, and one who goes too far and does not use it carefully will never be able to see the difference."

    As Kakamu watched his father, he noticed him abruptly pause, as stopping himself from saying something in particular. Kaulan's eyes met Kakamu's, and, realizing that he had been found out, he sighed and relented.

    "Your mother would never let me say this, but you're right," Kaulan admitted, returning to watch the fire himself. "There is something very wrong with this world. There always has been, but it's beyond me. I like to pretend that I have all the answers, but I don't. I'm just a man trying to raise his son the best he can in a place that was never meant for us. Maybe you will do better," Kaulan said, his eyes twinkling in the firelight as he smiled at Kakamu. "Maybe you will be the Savant instead."

    Saying nothing more, Kakamu ran over to his seated father and hugged him around the chest, burying his face into Kaulan's right shoulder. Kaulan chuckled and returned the hug, pulling Kakamu in with his right arm. "You're my hero, you know," he said.

    "I know," Kakamu replied, feeling the wetness of the tears pressing against his skin. "I know."

    -----

    <Nil'nara, 5 BR>

    [Theme]

    As the world melted away, Kakamu found himself returned to the dark place that he had been before the first dream, with the distant, flickering light of a fire inside a hut on the horizon. Kakamu felt something in his hand; lifting it up, he saw the handle of a crude wooden spear with a sharp metal tip - the predecessor to his most constant weapon. His gaze moved down to his arms, which were once again muscular, adult, and fully organic, like they once had been, a lifetime ago. A leather strap fell across his naked, red-skinned chest; looking down, Kakamu saw that he was carrying a pouch that contained the spoils of a night's hunt.

    Kakamu sighed, only half-aware that he was dreaming. The other half lived fully in this memory, whichever memory it was that his subconsciousness had decided to torment him with this time. Another reason Kakamu often struggled to surrender to sleep was because his dreams often returned him to his past life - a hard, but simpler and happier life - only to violently twist it away, leaving him longing for something he could never reclaim. But dreams, like sleep, were inevitable, always catching up with him in the end. Enchanted by the illusion of the dream world, Kakamu followed the light through the forest, somehow feeling its warmth surround him despite its distance away.

    Eventually, Kakamu arrived at the hut, a modest construction that was made of wood and partially camouflaged with some of the large leaves that fell from the trees in this valley. As Kakamu inspected the hut's wall, he realized that it was his own handiwork, with some of the indents in the thick wood bearing the same shape as the tip of his spear. As his lucidity receded, he found himself wondering why he had not recognized his home, even for a moment - until the sound of clattering wood caught his attention. Kakamu moved over to the entrance, lifted one of the huge leaves that hung from it out of his way, and stepped inside to investigate.

    At the opposite end of the hut, a female Tekkui stood in front of a hollow window, staring out at the nighttime valley. A wooden bowl, the apparent source of the clattering, rolled away from her before coming to a stop against the wall. Though her face was not visible, Kakamu recognized her instantly. She had long, braided hair that fell down past her shoulders, its ebony-brown color complimenting the dark red shade of her skin. A scruffy, two-piece leather suit clung to her attractive figure, with a hunter's belt of her own attached to her hips. The tip of her thin red tail, which Kakamu recalled would often twitch in agitation, was instead laying still against the warm dirt floor. Kakamu walked up to her side, taking in the sight of the two cute black horns that protruded from her forehead and the light purple coloring of the skin that surrounded them - just like how he remembered them. Kakamu gently took her right hand in his and pressed his head against hers, exhaling in contentment.

    Inhaling, the woman turned around and kissed him, hard, only parting again for breath a few moments later. Her eyes met his own, somehow smiling at him even more than her mouth was. "Where have you been?" she asked him in their native tongue.

    "Away," Kakamu replied with certainty. He couldn't remember now where he had been before, but he was sure by his wife's reaction, and his relief upon seeing her, that it was somewhere very far away indeed. "I missed you," he added.

    She grinned back at him - but suddenly stopped, something drawing her gaze towards the forest beyond the window in front of her. Kakamu rested against her for a moment, distracted by her comfort, before he realized that something was wrong. He scanned the single-roomed interior of the hut, noting that all of his possessions were accounted for, but there was someone missing from this scene. Someone important - even more important than his wife. He felt his gaze drawn to a bundle of handmade wooden toys on the floor beside him. Kakamu knelt down, finding a small wooden replica of his spear - his son's favourite toy. Kakamu let go of his wife's hand; upon doing so, she clutched it to her chest in fear, her eyes widening at the forest beyond the window. Kakamu turned back. "Parati?" he asked, concerned. There was no response. Her lips parted, but it was not to make a word; instead, her face contorted into a silent scream.

    "Parati!" Kakamu shouted, alarmed. This time, his raised voice seemed to break the spell; she blinked forcibly and turned to face him, her face still contorted by fear.

    "Did you hear that?" she whispered.

    "What?" Kakamu asked.

    "Listen!" Parati hissed, returning her attention to the forest. Kakamu nodded and followed her gaze, standing silently by her side. He focused, taking in all its sounds, but heard nothing save for the gentle rustling of the breeze against the leaves and the faint howls of night-beasts far away. "There!" Parati suddenly gasped, pointing one of her long-nailed fingers towards the forest.

    Kakamu nodded and pulled away, readying his spear and moving stealthily over towards the window, making sure to keep below it in order to avoid being detected by whatever laid beyond. Upon reaching the window, Kakamu held his weapon in an overarm throwing stance and looked outside, scanning what little of the surrounding environment was being illuminated by the fire, but he saw only bushes rustling in the wind and a few dead weeds clinging to the dry earth around them. Kakamu looked into the sky, wondering if he would find his answer there instead, but could see nothing but darkness. It was the kind of night where Tekku eclipsed the sun, obscuring all the stars and casting a shadow over the entire world.

    Once he had finished surveying the area, Kakamu rested his spear against the wall and embraced his wife. She was one of the strongest women he knew; it wasn't ever like her to be this scared. She threw her arms around him in return and squeezed him, tears welling in her eyes. After a moment, Kakamu broke the silence. "Parati, what did you hear?" he asked sternly. "And where is Trantoshen?"

    At this, Parati broke away from him, fear giving way to confusion as she processed at least one of Kakamu's questions. "You mean... you don't hear them?" she asked, unsettled.

    "Hear what?" Kakamu replied, a chill creeping up his spine.

    "The... them!" Parati shouted, her voice cracking. She looked over Kakamu's shoulder and back towards the window, staring at something just out of sight; something Kakamu could not see no matter how many times he tried. Kakamu waved his hand across her eyes in an attempt to draw her attention, but she simply looked straight through them as if they were not there. "They... they never left," she stammered when she eventually looked back at him, choking on her words. "They're here. Oh gods, they're still here!"

    "Who?!" Kakamu demanded, grasping her by the shoulders and shaking her, an instinctual fear beginning to take hold of him. Despite his prompting, he received only a wide-eyed stare in response, his wife unable to put her thoughts into words. "Parati, you have to calm down," he whispered. She stuttered a breath, her eyes almost glazing over, though she refocused on Kakamu when he squeezed her hands. She stared at him wide-eyed, her pupils large and dark. "Parati," Kakamu asked again. "Where is our son?"

    Parati nodded, understanding that Kakamu had asked a question, if not what exactly that question was. Her gaze travelled around the room, past Kakamu and around him, before settling back on him again. Kakamu could almost see the metaphorical gears in her mind turning as she processed his question. Eventually, as the ramifications of it finally started to dawn on her, her wide pupils shrank into tiny dots of rage, converging on her husband with a burning, accusatory fury. "You mean... you lost him?!" she snapped, all of her warmth vanishing in an instant. She tore her hands from his grasp and shoved him away, her mouth agape in shock and disgust. "You lost our son?!"

    "I lost him?" Kakamu replied defensively, shocked that she was accusing him of such a thing. "I left him here with you! He was here, before... I remember, he was here before, I know he was! You were watching him! What happened? Where did he go?!"

    Parati snarled, revealing her teeth as she confronted her husband, bearing down on him in a rage not unlike one of the beasts of his childhood. But before she could make her next move, the sound of wood clattering interrupted them both. The couple spun around in the direction of the entrance, where the sound had come from, and found a familiar sight.

    A small child stood at the other end of the hut, staring at them with wide, confused, almost fearful eyes. He was dressed in a simple green and brown tunic, his tiny legs sticking out underneath, partially hiding himself behind the large green leaf that covered the exit. The toddler was still baby-like – his face unformed – but he was recognised instantly by his parents as their son. His expression said that he was scared, though his attention was not on the forest like his mother's, but rather on the raised, angry voices of his parents. The source of the clattering could be seen next to him: the wooden bowl that Parati had dropped earlier, which Trantoshen had then picked up and dropped the same way.

    Kakamu breathed an immense sigh of relief, while Parati merely huffed through her nose, only glancing at Trantoshen for a moment before returning her furious glare to her husband. He turned to face her, looking for some sort of understanding, but found only anger instead. Despite the rage in her eyes, Kakamu knew that she didn't hate him; her expression was of someone struggling to understand, or struggling to be believed.

    The toddler looked down at the ground, trying to process what had happened. He was too young to put his thoughts into words, but his eyes were asking a question; a reluctant question, as if he were asking for an answer to something that he was not entirely sure he wanted. But Kakamu, thankfully, knew exactly how to respond. He stepped over to Trantoshen, lifted him out from behind the leaf and held him against his chest, wrapping his arms around him tenderly. Trantoshen rested his tiny head against Kakamu and exhaled, allowing himself to be comforted.

    "You never believe me," Parati spat, the fury in her voice dissipating slowly. "You never do, do you? I always have to convince you that something is real, or that something is happening. Every time! Would it kill you to listen to me for once?"

    "Parati, I'm trying," Kakamu pleaded, keeping his voice low. He looked down at his infant son, who had already burrowed into the warmth of his father's chest. "I listen to you every time, but nothing you say makes any sense," he whispered, pain filling his voice. "I left Trantoshen with you tonight. I'm sure of it. I wouldn't leave him out there in the forest. I would never..."

    "Kakamu..." Parati exhaled in frustration, closing her eyes and squeezing the bridge of her nose. "I love you, but this isn't going to work if you don't believe me. Either one of us is a lunatic, or... gods, I don't know. I just... want him to be safe, I thought he'd be okay. I trusted you, I always have. I thought you'd bring him back. I don't know what happened to him, but... he's not safe. Not like this."

    "Parati, I didn't lose him!" Kakamu protested, raising his voice for a moment before whispering again, remembering about the child in his arms. "There's always been some sort of... something out there. You keep seeing things. I know you do. But I'm here with Trantoshen now, and I can feel it, can't you? He's scared – have you have forgotten that? – and then you snap at me instead of comforting him. I just want a few normal moments. I just want... peace. Can't we have that in our lives?"

    Parati opened her mouth to respond, but suddenly turned back towards the window as if listening to something else. The anger - as well as most of the color in her face - drained away in an instant, replaced again by an expression of primal, instinctual terror.

    "No, we can't," Parati whispered back, almost choking on her words with fear as she raised a quivering finger towards the forest beyond the window. "Not while I can see... that."

    Kakamu sighed, deciding to humor his wife for one last time as he followed her gaze into the void of darkness that covered the land outside - but then, something changed. He felt his mind suddenly explode with memories, memories that had been left behind upon entering this dream; memories of all the years that had passed since this night spent with his wife and son. He remembered the arrival of the Arokazek in their metal ships; he remembered seeing his father on his deathbed, both of their bodies having been twisted by metal beyond recognition; he remembered being lost in the void of space; he remembered Arc Keylana and all the battles that followed. Then he remembered her. Charlia.

    As memories of the last few dreams filled the rest of the empty space in his mind, the Kakamu of the past became the Kakamu of the present, returning to full lucidity. He looked around, examining the world around him, wondering what had suddenly disturbed the flow of the dream. Everything had suddenly frozen in place; Trantoshen lay still against his chest, warm but unbreathing, the flames of the fire were warm, but unmoving; Parati remained standing, but her finger was steady, no longer quivering as it pointed through the air.

    And then he realized why. This time, something was different. This was no longer a memory of something that happened.

    This time, he could see it.

    Beyond the window, in the corner of his eye, there was a shadow clinging to the side of a tree: a shadow that moved while everything else was still. Kakamu started to turn his head, trying to focus on it, but his neck began to seize up, like it was trying to keep his eyes away. He fought back against the sensation, forcibly twisting his head with his hands when his neck would not obey. When he did so, he began to hear a scream - not a Tekkui scream, not even a human scream. This was not the sound of any creature that he had ever met. This was not the noise of anything that had ever breathed. It was an inhuman, high frequency scream that vibrated the entire planet itself.

    And then there was silence.

    And then he woke.

    Kakamu emerged violently into the real world, struggling against the covers of his bed like he was fighting against a massive, invisible hand. Fire welled up inside him, somehow burning him from the inside out as the scream echoed in his mind. Gasping for breath, Kakamu rolled out of his bed and fell onto the cold floor of the room, clutching his head while waiting for the echo to subside. After a few moments - a few, agonizing moments - Kakamu realized that he was once again on La Xara, safe and sound. Though the former world was just a nightmare, he had taken its pain into the real world with him: the pain of seeing his former wife, the pain of seeing his lost son, the pain of feeling the weight of a world on his shoulders.

    As Kakamu shuddered, Kaulan's words echoed through his mind. We're all but specks, compared to the immensity of the stars.

    Not this speck, Kakamu thought, defiantly clenching his fists as he rose to his feet. Not this one. I don't care how long it takes.

    I'll find you, whatever you are.

    And I'll kill you.

    -----

    <Vesa Qatoria>

    In a certain small village located in the Vesa Qatorian outback, a portly man stumbled drunkenly through the streets, every swaying step threatening to send him falling onto his face. He was dressed in simple brown robes that resembled the garb of a monk, though there was nothing monk-like about this person. The fact that he was in such a state at high noon, the harsh Vesa Qatorian sun bearing down on him from the top of the bright blue sky, said as much. He just didn't think he had anything better to do in the middle of the day - especially after his dreams had come crashing down so spectacularly.

    For at least ten years now, Mick Sruban had dreamed of becoming a famous mercenary for hire, inspired by the intergalactic fame and fortune that some mercenaries had enjoyed in the years prior to the Tanari-Takemikazuchi War. Following a bitter divorce from his wife, he began dedicate himself fully to pursuing his dream, teaching himself how to build deadly weapons out of common materials and taking close-quarters combat classes (most of which ended with him feeling bruised and a little ripped off). He had even somehow once managed to convince a Pirate Lord to hire him on a mission to rescue a scientist, or something - though in his drunken state, he couldn't really remember what the outcome had been. He only remembered that he had come away no more famous and only slightly wealthier than before, and then, on his way home to Malchior IV, he had somehow found himself in the middle of the Battle of the Sundowner Expanse. Sruban escaped, but one of his legs didn't, and he found himself having to spend all of his earnings on a bionic replacement for it.

    Sruban spent the next seven years repeatedly trying and failing to make it big, while others, such as Thiodore 'Astro' Astrophel, succeeded. What does Astro have that I haven't? he thought as he staggered into the village square, beer sloshing around the half-empty stein he was holding in his right hand. Rugged good looks? I have those in spades, he asserted, patting his pudgy, round face with his left hand. Guns? I got those too, he continued, patting the shoddy blaster pistol that was attached to his left hip. Sruban was grateful that the local folks didn't seem to mind him carrying a gun - but now that he thought about it, everyone here was carrying guns. Even the farmers were strapped, for some reason.

    As he continued stumbling along, Sruban recalled how he had eventually given up on his dreams and come to Vesa Qatoria in search of more modest work. He soon found out that he wasn't cut out for farm labor, though, and was unceremoniously dumped in the outback instead of outside his residence during a routine ride home. After spending a few days wandering the wilderness, he had stumbled upon a quaint little village filled with people who seemed happy to take him in - provided that he didn't ask too many questions. Yessir, Sruban was grateful to the mighty fine folks for taking him in, even giving him a cosy rug on the floor of a shed to sleep on.

    Some of their behaviour was a little... suspicious though. Why was everyone carrying guns, and why did even the village priest he passed on the way here have a rocket-propelled grenade launcher strapped to his back?

    And then there was... the statue.

    Sruban turned, taking in the sight of the bizarre statue that stood in the middle of the town square. It was a bust - or rather just the disembodied head - of a square-jawed man with a buzz cut hairstyle, staring ahead with a serious expression. Sruban could've sworn that he recognized the face from somewhere, but in his delirium, the memory escaped him. He'd seen statues elsewhere on Vesa Qatoria during his voyages, but they were usually full-bodied depictions of patriarchs of clans such as the Breaker clan, not whoever this man was. Adding to his curiosity was the fact that the locals seemed eager to keep Sruban away from it, especially during noon, even offering him free beers if it meant getting him wasted instead. Well, today, Sruban decided he was going to find out why.

    Opposite the statue, Sruban took a seat on the outside porch of a farm supply store, hoping its owner, a yellow-bellied fellow named Chuck, would pay him no mind. Finding the spot uncomfortable, he was about to move when he suddenly noticed a glimmer in the sky far away, bursting through the clouds. As he watched with interest, the glimmer seemed to cross the distance between it and himself in less than a minute, transforming into a streamlined red and gold spacecraft that hovered above the town. The spacecraft then touched down in an empty lot to the side of the square and extended a ramp that two figures walked down.

    Sruban rubbed his eyes, trying to focus his blurry vision to make the images clearer. He wasn't sure whether it was the beer, or whether this was actually happening, but one of the figures looked like a tall, red-skinned, biomechanical warrior, with a gold mask over his face and a silver spear in one of his metal hands. His companion looked like a human, but equally tough-looking, light brown-skinned woman in a grey tank top with even more weapons strapped to her belt. The two conversed for a minute, the alien seeming hesitant about something, before he eventually relented and followed the woman to the statue.

    And then, Sruban was sure he was dreaming. Like some kind of nightmare, the statue's mouth opened in front of them, revealing nothing but a black void inside. The tip of the red-skinned figure's spear burst into flames, its light revealing the sides of a tunnel, as he and the woman entered. Shortly after they disappeared from view, the mouth of tunnel closed, the statue becoming idle again as if nothing had ever happened. Sruban considered following them for a moment, the alcohol providing a boost to his bravery, but as he made to rise to his feet, his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell backwards, unconscious, the alcohol in his body finally catching up with him.

    -----

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told>

    Oblique sighed as he turned the corner of a empty metal corridor only to find himself in yet another empty metal corridor. He had spent most of the past hour exploring the lower decks of The Coldest Story in the hope that he would find Xavik, but the enigmatic augur seemed to have made himself scarce after Sophie Vinderen's arrest. The irony that Xavik was nowhere to be found when he was needed, but was ever present when he was not, was not lost on Oblique. It also did not help that the dense, winding metal construction of the ship's underbelly was interfering with his senses somewhat. His ability to sense the auras of others grew slightly weaker with each sheet of metal that blocked them, just like a regular person's ability to hear sounds or smell odours would diminish when the same obstacles came between them.

    "Hey, boss, you think we should check the upper half of the ship?" Halo piped up, having since been strapped to Oblique's back again. "Or maybe we should go see what happened to Raimei."

    "What?" Oblique asked, confused. He turned around on the spot, but just like Halo had implied, Raimei was nowhere to be seen either. Oblique was sure that Raimei had been following them; the bounty hunter's idolatry of Oblique meant that he had virtually been glued to his side ever since they had met, but now, there was no trace of Raimei anywhere. Instead, Oblique saw only an empty industrial corridor, with tight-knit pipes in place of walls that stretched overhead and bent at odd angles, seemingly routing steam, water, or other resources to various parts of the ship. Indeed, Oblique noticed that the further he had travelled, the floor beneath his feet had turned into a grilled walkway that overlooked a larger industrial-esque area. If Oblique had to guess, due to the lack of doors and furnishings, this was a maintenance area, meant to be inaccessible to regular passengers.

    But Oblique was not a regular passenger, and neither was his target.

    "Why did you not tell me earlier that he was gone?" Oblique huffed back at Halo, referring to Raimei. "Are you trying to make things difficult?"

    "Well, I, uh, closed my eyes, one minute he was there, the next minute he wasn't," Halo protested. "C'mon, give a lyre a break! I'm allowed to get some shut-eye once in a while, ain't I?"

    Oblique shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose, wondering what else he might have failed to notice while trying to navigate this artificial environment. As he considered this thought, he looked up and caught something out of the corner of his eye. On a walkway directly above him, a pale man in a suit was leaning with his hands against a railing, watching him intently. Oblique watched the man in return, trying to determine his aura, only to sense nothing. This disturbed Oblique, since there was nothing significant between them that would block his abilities; the man simply radiated an aura of nothingness.

    "Who are you?" Oblique called out to him, assuming a defensive posture.

    Despite the fact that Oblique had come straight from Vinderen's hideout, he did not seem to be carrying the sword he had recovered, or if he was, it was not visible on him at all.
    drj
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by drj Sun Nov 28, 2021 5:05 pm

    Vesa Qatoria>

    As Kakamu and Vekhta descended into the underground base of the Espiritu Santo, a cold wind blew through the tunnel, and unexpectedly, the fire on the tip of the Guardian Fire Spear went out.

    "Vekhta…" said a voice coming from somewhere in front of them.

    An unnatural light, with no obvious source, started to shine at the other end of the tunnel. And suddenly, before them stood Blackout.

    "I'm so glad to see you again," said the Void. "Shepard said you had betrayed me, even convinced himself of it… but I knew he was lying. I knew that you would return."

    As Blackout walked towards the pair, he eyed Kakamu suspiciously. "Who are you?" he asked the Tekkui.

    -----

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told>

    "Oblique Twilight Radiance." the man said. His speech was slow and aloof, almost as if he were somehow picking up every word with a set of tweezers and carefully dropping it into its right place. Water occasionally dripped down onto him from a leaky pipe right over the walkway, but it seemingly did not bother him at all. "Every being on this ship must reach a state of natural equilibrium with its environment. Overly aggressive tendencies… weapons… are a virus that puts that at risk, one that the Coldest Story must be quarantined from. You refuse to reach equilibrium."

    The man suddenly threw himself over the railing, and did a perfect somersault in the air before landing a few metres away from the Lithan. He reached into the inside pocket for his suit, and pulled out a pistol that appeared somehow too large to have actually been able to fit inside of it.

    "Give me the sword, Mr. Radiance," he said, aiming at the Lithan.

    -----

    <Malchior IV, White Table Research Base>

    It isn’t fair, Silver Eachan thought as, in his new liquid form, he struggled to get something resembling eyes to cohere for long enough to get a fix on who exactly was looking down on him. It took him many tries to figure out that his eyes getting watery - almost literally - wasn’t the only problem, that what was in front of him was, for all intents and purposes, a blur.

    The last thing he remembered was falling asleep atop a mountain of gold and bottles of wine. He wasn’t sure how long it had been - the days blurred into one in Malak Al-Maut’s treasury, and he’d long since managed to lose the only other person who might have tried to shake him from his stupor anyway. He’d been fine with that. He had no hope of escape, no hope of ever accomplishing anything more, and all he wanted was to surround himself with gold and alcohol, let the days blur into one, and maybe, eventually, die. He was ready. Why couldn’t they let him die?

    “What are you?” he cried, managing to form a sort of arm stump with which he could vainly hit at the vat. “What do you want from me?”

    -----
    Kon
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Kon Thu Dec 02, 2021 6:25 pm

    <Vesa Qatoria>

    Kakamu froze in place the second the fire atop his spear was extinguished by the breeze, his instincts warning him of danger. This was no natural wind - the entrance to the lair had closed behind them, and the terrain on the surface was flat, making it unlikely that there would be an opening to the surface that wind could pass through ahead of them. That left another possibility that Kakamu dreaded to consider.

    There was a period in Tekkui history, during the reign of the beasts, where a young Kakamu and his clan were driven into an underground network of caves that were once inhabited by a neighboring tribe. Rather than find shelter, however, the Tekkui found only death; skeletal remains littered the floors of most of the caverns, with large bite marks in their bones threatening to foreshadow a similar fate for Kakamu's clan. Despite the omen, the Tekkui explorers knew that to turn back would be even more dangerous, so they had pressed on, travelling deeper until all light and warmth were gone. But something else had arrived in their place: a phantom wind.

    Kakamu wondered back then, as he did now, how such a wind could occur deep underground. The leader of the party, asking himself the same question, had lit a torch to find his answer, only to wish he never had. In the next moment, a titanic creature, occupying most of the space of the cavern, descended upon them, the breath from its nostrils providing the answer to the mystery. Kakamu was only able to glimpse the creature in the moments before its jaws snapped shut around the torchbearer's torso, but it was horrifying enough for the party to turn heel and flee.

    Shuddering slightly, Kakamu dismissed the memories to focus on the present. Yet, when he looked at the path in front of him, he found that it was not a monster inhabiting the dark space in front of him, but...

    ...a man?

    Kakamu wasn't sure. An ambient light appeared behind the man that should have aided Kakamu's sight, but it didn't. Instead, the image seemed vague, almost like it was avoiding his sight, like a motion blur in a photograph. Kakamu blinked, wondering if there was something wrong with his eyes, before he realized that he could see all the details on the rock walls around the man in perfect clarity. The cause of the blurriness was the man himself.

    For a moment, Kakamu was reminded of the shadow that had avoided detection in his last dream, causing the hair on the back of his neck to stand on end. Just as he dismissed the prospect of a connection, however, the image seemed to stabilize, creating a picture of the man that was more recognizable as a human being, though Kakamu was sure now that he wasn't. There was something about his face which was unlike that of any human he had seen; Kakamu had to think for a moment before he finally found the answer: his face was perfectly - or almost perfectly - symmetrical, almost as if every bone in his face had been crafted deliberately, precisely, to create his visage.

    As the man's eyes met Kakamu's own, Kakamu felt a powerful yet indescribable emotion well up inside him, though he could not decide whether it was positive or negative. He did not recognize the man's face, and yet, there was something about him that was unmistakably familiar. It was not a memory that told him this, but an instinct, buried deep within his subconscious; perhaps on a deeper level than even his dreams dared to reach. It was like they had been close friends, or bitter enemies, in another time. Another place.

    Another universe.

    Kakamu steeled himself as he gave his response. "I am Arc-" he paused, realizing his mistake, a habit that he would have to overcome. "No, just Kakamu," he continued. "You may have heard of me. I was like Vekhta once. A warrior of the New Order. Now, I am just a warrior. I was sent to kill her, but... you could say I had a change of mind. We've been travelling together ever since, seeking answers to a question that brought us together. She told me you could help us."

    He wasn't exactly comfortable with how little Vekhta had decided to tell him about her psychic friend, but Kakamu sensed that that was, in part, due to the fact that Vekhta herself had her own questions about this man. He stood back, content to let her do the talking from here, knowing that the mystery would reveal itself in due time, as mysteries always do - for better or for worse.

    -----

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told>

    Oblique remained stoic as the agent delivered his threat, undeterred by the agent's demonstration of his acrobatic skill and the gun that he was currently pointing in Oblique's face. After all, such a display was nothing compared to what Oblique was capable of even on one of his worst days. He considered responding with a display of power that was appropriate for the man - telekinetically flicking the gun out of his hand and sending him tumbling over the railing should suffice - but, as Oblique raised a finger to do so, he suddenly changed his mind. Perhaps it was because he was feeling emboldened by his victory over Sophie Vinderen and having finally retrieved the objective that he set out to accomplish. Perhaps it was because he had not had a good fight in months, and he was beginning to yearn for one. Whatever the reason was, Oblique decided that he would take a different approach this time.

    "You want my sword?" Oblique asked, a ghost of a smirk appearing on his face.

    Without waiting for the agent's response, Oblique reached over his back and retrieved Halo, who immediately opened his mouth in glee, knowing what was about to happen. Oblique held the lyre out in front of him and began to spin him in a vertical clockwise direction with one hand, switching to using telekinesis when Halo reached a speed that his hand could not keep up with, transforming the lyre into a circular blur. A moment later, the blur crackled and exploded into a blinding wheel of light that reflected off the agent's sunglasses, casting bolts of lightning that bounced off the walkway and struck the equipment around the large chamber they were in.

    Suddenly, Oblique reached into the circle with his right hand, which immediately caused the circle to explode and the lightning to disperse. At the center of the explosion was Halo's face - the wooden face of a mythical dragon - which now occupied a wooden hilt that was being held by the slender fingers of Oblique's hand. As the agent's eyes moved upwards, he saw that the wooden hilt had wrapped itself around the hilt of a sword - the sword - unmistakable with the wave-like patterns running across its blue and white blade and the powerful aura surrounding it.

    "Come and take it," Oblique smirked, twirling the sword in his hand.
    Klak
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Klak Wed Dec 08, 2021 8:35 am

    OOS: waiting on Clay for Lanorra and Uteriach’s rescue mission, and JS for Salem+Klak and Akzer+Keichi+Shepard.

    <Hyperspace Lane towards Vongola, c. 573 BR>

    Long he had waited for his freedom from the Vrai and the Phantom Lords. A hard-won victory for him and most of his family. Now, they could all rest.

    He pondered this as he gazed at a star chat that shimmered to life. Lost in thought, he barely listened to his son Ildra di Armechio.

    “...meaning that the Zrujim and Iotun will not bother us at all,” Ildra explained. “They keep to their own. As such, Iotunort would be perfect for us.”

    Uteriach’s stupor dissipated as he blinked back to reality. He cleared his throat.

    “Things have changed, my son,” he dismissed. “Iotunort may be inconspicuous now, but another planet in its system is a growing trade hub. Once the galaxy rediscovers the value of its resources, the habitable areas on Iotunort may suddenly become far too interesting to outside parties, meaning we will eventually be discovered. Besides…your mother hated the cold.”

    Uteriach stood up and pointed to another world on the star chart.

    “Vongola…is our best bet. I set coordinates for it when we set off,” he announced.

    “Vongola?” Ildra scoffed. “Of all the millions of planets we could choose, you want us to go to a Dachori rump state?”

    “To call it a rump state would be an insult to rump states, Ildra,” Uteriach smirked. “We never truly conquered the planet; we only signed a treaty with the K’thaan to use it as a staging post for our invasion of Tuvar’quóth. Many Dachori settled on the planet since then.”

    “An outpost of a dead empire,” Ildra sighed. “And that’s assuming the K’thaan have not reneged on that deal they signed eons ago.”

    “The Vrai or any of their allies have never gone near that planet, and they will never look for anyone there.” Uteriach spat. “Nevermind its spiritual significance. Vongola will be our new home. Our Vongola. Our rest. Our people’s resurrection.”

    Uteriach crossed his arms behind his back and walked away as Ildra and Figlio nodded. Alda remained silent and closed her eyes.

    Little did they know that over a century later, humans would also make Vongola their home. But the Armechios did not let an opportunity go to waste, and eventually found positions in the Kingdom of Vongola.



    <Presidential Palace, A Week After Sefer Declared her New Order, XX AR>

    The hot water poured onto Klak’s face as he sighed, rubbing his scalp with his favorite scent of Gilclack brand shampoo (now available at a DENNISMart near you!). Quiet showers were something he started to appreciate since becoming President of the Malchiorian Protectorate. He had previously instructed the Presidential Guard to only knock on his bathroom’s door if anything was on fire, but as someone once said, when you’re president, everything’s on fire.

    Nevertheless, this time he was able to enjoy it to the fullest.

    Moments later, he emerged from his bedroom wearing his favorite suit and tie and walked towards a holo-meeting room. Two Malchiorians notified him that the line was secure, and a hologram of the imprisoned Uteriach appeared before them all.

    “Good morning, Generalissimo,” Klak greeted.

    “So now you wear the crown,” Uteriach greeted. “A remarkable rise for one as you…Howard’s little protege. Weren’t you part of some provincial police force a few years ago?”

    “After a stint in the military, yes,” Klak nodded. “Signed right back up thanks to your friend Allman. And I seem to remember being part of the garrison that took you down, Generalissimo.”

    Klak smirked then crossed his arms behind his back.

    “But enough about my resume,” he dismissed. “I’m reaching out to you because I want to make a deal. You probably have heard…but Emperor Sefer Yetzirah of the Takemikazuchi Empire has declared that she will establish a New Order. Word is she’s already taken multiple systems and is set to take many more. Then there are rumors she’s…building advanced weapons. Unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, Malchior IV has formed an alliance with many of the remnants of the Galactic Government to counter this threat and promote freedom across the galaxy.”

    “The rumors are true, then,” Uteriach replied morosely. “The Mad Emperor’s mind is filled with a messianic delusion…she’ll fight a holy war that could bathe the stars in blood.”

    “I’ll do everything I can to stop that from happening,” Klak replied. “Which is why I need your help. The enemy of my enemy….”

    “You could have all created a utopia after Allman’s defeat, you know,” Uteriach pondered, interrupting Klak. “The ruins of Tanari could have been the kiln to forge a grand republic. Takemikazuchi science. Malchiorian ingenuity and engineering. Amuni passion. The cultural contributions of a thousand planets, uplifting the spirits of your people, and recruiting ten thousand more worlds. Economic powerhouses creating prosperity for trillions. All protected by a combined military led by Lurian, Tanari, Onyana, and Malchiorian commanders. Soldiers and warriors dedicated to destroying the enemies inside of the galaxy…and outside of it.” Uteriach paused while glaring at Klak, flashing back to the days of the Arc Crusade so long ago. “You could have created an intergalactic union of states, each sovereign but bound together by mutual principles…perhaps even those of Vongolan revolutionary democracy. A true Utopian universe. But instead, you humans were too short-sighted and wasted a golden opportunity. You signed your concordat and now you’re about to go to war again. And you’re relying on the shadow of that joke of a Galactic Government to help you.”

    Klak clenched his jaw in restraint. You helped start the last one you fucking hypocrite, he thought to himself.

    “The Free States Alliance is no Galactic Government,” Klak countered. “We’re using its assets to create a better union, a stronger one. Maybe we’ll eventually be as strong as the utopia in your head. But for now, we have to take care of the greatest threat we’ve faced in ages. And I need your help, Uteriach. The galaxy sees you as a tyrant, someone who overthrew a corrupt king and installed a worse government. Someone who threw his lot in with dictators and monsters and committed unspeakable crimes. But I also know you were a soldier under the Dachori Empire…a seasoned warrior long before any humans ever set foot on Malchior. You could provide us with information on ancient Rider technology and weaponry, secrets only they knew, to help us save the universe.”

    For a moment, Uteriach wondered how in the world Klak knew about all this. He dismissed these thoughts, then scoffed.

    “Why should I help the people keeping me here?” Uteriach chuckled. “You’re awfully naive, Klak.”

    “For the record, it’s an idea Howard and I agreed on together,” Klak clarified. “But you should help us because it’s in everyone’s best interest to stop Sefer from taking over the galaxy. Especially Vongola’s. Especially yours. That new underwater prison facility you’re in? It’s a walk in the park compared to what Sefer will have planned for you once she realizes you’re still alive. And she will find out if the FSA lets its guard down. We took great lengths to ensure everyone would think you were either dead or had disappeared. But secrets can only be kept for so long in a war.”

    Uteriach frowned. His hologram visibly paced his cell, then swerved, a devilish smile creeping on his face.

    “Very well, Klak,” he grinned. “I accept your proposal.”  



    <The Ursa Prime, Apolion Industries Fleet, 1 Parsecs Gsouth of Ahura, 7 AR>

    Melchias Apolion dismissed everything he had been reading on his VI as the elevator neared his ship’s bridge. He closed his eyes as he listened to the music, the blend of violins and gorflins soothing him.

    Being the CEO of a major Xaldari State corporation meant you had to be on your A-game to keep your grindset up, which in turn meant you had to keep a solid routine. Apolion often preferred music for motivation and relaxation, but he was always open to other activities. Still, few things could replace playing soothing and fascinating melodies just before an important meeting or experiment.

    Apolion dabbled in various other kinds of music but always found himself returning to galactic-classical, a fusion genre born out of integrating alien instruments into classical and Baroque-inspired pieces. It was part of a fusionistic movement that tried to combine various intergalactic genres of music to try something new, one that was shortly followed by more purist movements.  

    The music stopped as soon as the doors dragged open, revealing a bridge buzzing with activity. A gryphon woman wearing glasses and a suit smiled at Apolion, extending her arm towards a holo-display. Meanwhile, the crew members stood up and smiled at Apolion.

    “Mr. Apolion, it is a pleasure to see you,” she greeted.

    “Dr. Annelise, great to see you too,” Apolion nodded. “Team, good morning. Great to see you all. Let’s get started.”

    Two holograms shimmered to life. One showed a Xabalo in an exosuit and nanomesh hood. The other was a human wearing a visor, combat fatigues, and a shit-eating grin. The human ran his hands through his spiky red hair.

    “Ready to get go, sir,” he announced.

    “Tango Plissken, move out,” Apolion replied, then turned towards the Lupice. “Just the same for you, Kirk Kanoth. I want a clean test, don’t go beyond what your managers discussed.”

    Both nodded. The holo-display then began to broadcast multiple screens from each of the soldiers in both Tango and Kirk’s squadrons. Now every crew member could see everything and command the squadrons remotely.

    “Man, I love Obion,” Apolion breathed, remarking at the programming that made it all possible.

    All of those soldiers, save for Tango and Kirk, were inorganic robots. The R&D department of Apolion Industries’ military branch had come up with a name for them based on a Terugan space pirate they all became fond of: Y0N-Bots.

    Apolion Industries had planned to develop these bots not long after the Tanari-Takemikazuchi War, and their debut could not have come at a more opportune time. The New Order was invading half the galaxy, and had recently deployed not one, but two new breeds of warriors: the PsyTroopers and the KT Troopers. Each tested the mettle of even the strongest of the FSA’s super-soldiers, meaning that the galaxy was desperate to find a new type of combatant that could counter the enemy. Furthermore, lines were starting to get drawn in the sand. The Heyerdahl Corporation was starting to formally align itself with the FSA (not that it needed much, seeing as the Malchiorians gave Graff an entire planet years ago). And rumors that pro-FSA and pro-New Order factions were starting to spring up in the Xazari State. Apolion Industries had to act, or its military technology branch would find itself desperately behind its competitors…or on the wrong end of one of Sefer’s latest superweapons.

    Then again, the time was not as opportune as Apolion would have hoped. He originally wanted to test his robot soldiers on Vongola, a planet being torn apart by civil war. It was a great place for an unknown faction to drop in, take a few enemies out, then leave. Plus, rumors of gyndroid agents running around would have provided another great opportunity for research. But after the planet’s Generalissimo made a big damn speech at the FSA headquarters several days ago, Apolion knew that Vongola was starting to draw too much attention again. Thankfully, someone at a board meeting suggested another planet: Ahura, another war-torn world, but one that made Vongola look like a walk in the park. If his prototypes could survive that, they could survive anything: an excellent sales pitch. They would not be the first droid troopers in the galaxy, but they could be such efficient killing machines that they may eventually be among the last.

    But first, they had to survive the mother of all gauntlets.

    -

    <Ahura>

    Tango Plissken’s unit–populated by the Y0N-Bots known as Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday–primed their weapons. Each robot’s skeleton was grafted into black and grey exosuits and would have otherwise been indistinguishable from some sort of armored humanoid–save for their thin plasteel heads affixed to an optic that shone with red LED lights. The robots’ AI was cleverly hidden somewhere in their bodies, protected by layers of armor and synthweave.

    Once they were ready to make the jump from their Apolion Industries brand transport aircraft, the doors shimmered open. They revealed a sky blazing with fire blazed with ion trails and plasma cannon fire in all directions. Tango Plissken laughed, then lit up a cigar.

    “Ain’t it grand?” he cackled as he took a zipline off of the aircraft down to the abyss. His Y0N-Bots followed by rocketing out of the ship using their jetpacks. The squadron all started to fire their blaster rifles at any enemies nearby.

    Meanwhile, multiple kilometers away, Kirk Kanoth, accompanied by the robots Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, fought through many legions near the outskirts of Megacity 05. Nearly an hour later, they arrived at a dilapidated building.

    “I hear a convoy approaching,” Kirk muttered, speaking to both the Y0N-Bots and to all the Apolion Industries crew observing on the Ursa Prime. Move into the building to find a vantage point.”

    The squadron each strafed their kinetic rifles across the rooms, taking care not to get tripped up by all the debris. The rubble made it next to impossible to determine whether anyone had been in the place recently, or if anyone was still there.

    Kirk and the Y0N-Bots gingerly went up a treacherous staircase, avoiding what Saturday had calculated as the steps most likely to cause collapse.

    Moments later, they arrived at a corner. Kirk peaked over and saw Etende speaking to Cuttlefish. He retreated back and quietly cursed.

    Ursa, there are two people here, and one of them looks like an armored civvie,” he whispered as quietly as he could. “How do we proceed?”

    “This is Ahura, Kanoth,” Melchias Apolion replied through comms. “There are no civilians, armored or otherwise…at least as far as your pay grade is concerned anyway. This test requires a shoot-to-kill approach for all targets. They are your targets. Take them down.”

    “These weren’t our orders, Mr. Apolion,” Kirk objected. “You yourself said…Our memo specifically instru-”

    “They’re your orders now,” Apolion retorted. “Kill them.”

    Kirk hesitated. The Y0N-Bots primed their weapons, preparing to turn the corner and fire on Etende and Cuttlefish. Kirk gulped then raised his arm.

    “Remote override: 10-11-07!” he shouted. “Stand down!”

    Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday all lowered their weapons and entered into guard positions. Kirk stepped out of the corner and raised his arms.

    “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” he urged as he faced both Cuttlefish and Etende. “Just…state your business and we’ll be out of here before you know it.”

    “What the FUCK are you doing, Kirk?!” Apolion shouted through comms.



    <Rain’s Safehouse, Yari III>

    Rain was taken aback by Enrique’s reveal.

    “What in the wo-”

    He was cut off by his communicator. Although he was technically too young for the song, the agency had nonetheless made it a priority to train him to recognize it given the likelihood that someone would try to use it as a means of communication again. It was one of the last things Hercules Splendor quizzed him on before his disappearance.

    “Vigeland…this is Malchiorian agent Rain Sulrai, I copy,” he replied. Rain first quoted some of the song’s lyrics to verify that he was indeed a Malchiorian agent, then started to ask Vigeland questions.  

    “Where are you landing, what’s your ETA, and just what exactly are you bringing?”



    <Old Saskana, Yari III>

    Shield-Man Jones smiled as he stirred his glass.

    “What’s wrong, ladies?” he laughed as he glanced at Mett and Peter North. “First revolution? We’re Tanari for crying out loud, coups and revolutions happen on days that end in ‘y’.”

    Jones gulped down what was left of his champagne then stood up. He adjusted his collar and paced the room.

    “If these Green Helmets wanted us dead, they’d have blown your villa to smithereens, Shae,” he surmised. “They want to drag us out, put us on a fake trial, then execute us publicly to make themselves look like heroes. But the fact that they’re dragging this out means we have an opportunity.”

    Jones remotely prepared a holographic transmission, then smiled as it began to broadcast him live to all of Yari III.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Shield-Man Jones Skydda. While Tanar is talking politics, turmoil is engulfing our planet. Von Budberg has disappeared. So many of our people are being murdered by these Green Helmet radicals. I was one of the first to warn the Confederation about them, and now they’re destroying our beloved planet. In fact, because I spoke out, they’re now outside of the house I am staying at, threatening me and my staff. This is how the radicals react if you dare speak your mind and stand against their agenda, and it’ll only get worse if we let the New Order into our systems! We can’t let this happen to our beloved cities and homes! This is our planet! This is our Trilateral! This is our Confederation! We need to stand up and take our society back! We need to stand up and say no more! NO MORE! If none of those politicians want to cross their arms and give up, then it’s time to throw them out! Take action in any way you can, and we’ll stop these maniacs once and for all! NO MORE!”

    Jones finished his transmission. The broadcast spread from Yari to the rest of the Confederacy. He hoped that it would soon reach the rest of the galaxy too and start a counter-revolution.

    “Now we wait, and hopefully we’ll have our own anti-Green Helmets force soon,” Jones cackled as he sat down. “We’re going to be the new center, Shae. Who would have thought it?”  

    Meanwhile, an Amun Collective cruiser lowered itself from the skies, slowly approaching the villa.

    -

    <Space, near Tanari Prime’s Moon>

    An FSA fleet arrived from FTL, slowly cruising through space. On the bridge of the flagship sat a Malchiorian human rear admiral. He stood up and saluted a hologram of Grand Admiral Perseus.

    “At ease. Rear Admiral Striborg, it is a pleasure to see you,” Perseus greeted. “I must remind you of the importance of your mission…and of how delicate it truly is. Orders are coming from the FSA Secretary-General himself.”

    “Understood, sir,” Striborg replied. “My fleet is ready to do what is necessary.”  



    <FSA HQ, Malchior IV>

    “The FSA’s involvement in your civil war is dedicated to assisting the resistance and sapientitarian aid, Mr. Karosh,” Gaius replied with a smile. “I am not familiar with your allegations, so I must deny that we have ever hunted down your people. The war can always end if you wish, which is why we must continue this conversation soon. Thank you, Generalissimo.”

    “Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General,” Figlio enunciated, half-mockingly. He stood up and left, with Turel and Jerid (hopefully) following him.

    “Well, that was…weird,” Figlio muttered as he stormed down the hallway. Turel could notice that several feet away, a woman who looked oddly similar to Figlio had just come out of another room.

    Meanwhile, Gaius stood up and went to the waiting area, smiling as he saw Lazran.

    “Lazran! Welcome! We’ve made it! Come in, have a seat!” Gaius cheered.

    -

    “All due respect, Madam, but they’re calling us sore losers!” a staffer complained to Ambassador Gilclack as she rubbed her forehead.

    “But if we respond to the bullshit we encourage it,” she sighed. “All we have to do is say we look forward to working with the new secretariat. Somebody make sure we’re coordinating with the Presidential Palace and the State Department, don’t want them accusing us of going off message again. Anyway, maybe we can work with Gaius Malcovus….”

    Little did she know that Gaius was biding his time, waiting until the right moment to reveal what the lie Salem had fed to him about Klak being the orchestrator of his assassination attempt. And then there was Project Blackstar, a different matter altogether….



    <Micho>

    Jeris glared at Amanda with widened eyes.

    “Woah, woah, what the hell, Amanda?” Regina asked, almost screaming. “Calm down, what do you mean?!”

    Suddenly, a beeping noise came out of the body of Ocelot’s Hand’s minion.

    Jeris swerved.

    “EVERYONE, TAKE COVER! HE’S GONNA BLOW!” he shouted. “Guards, get him out!”

    A pair of guards quickly pushed the gurney out into the outdoor trash area and quickly ran back in to take cover.

    -

    OOS: Theme for this section + the Coldest Story sections.

    Lalli sipped on a mai tai as he relaxed in one of the many hot springs available at Jeris’ resort. He sighed and stretched out his legs, letting the hot turquoise water soothe his feet. Before dipping in, he felt like he had tried to tackle a Cabrepasite in the wintertime. But after, he felt like he was on Cloud 9. There were no words.

    The medics at the facility encouraged him to try something new. They told him a soak at the spa would do wonders for his body, so he decided to follow their instructions to the letter.  

    Well, almost all of their instructions. They seemed keen on telling him that he should avoid alcohol in his injured state for some reason, but Lalli knew it was just a precaution. Besides, it’s not like anyone would tell! One drink couldn’t hurt. Or two. Or three.

    He stirred his glass and smiled, realizing how lucky he was, not just to be in a place like this, but to be alive period. He had more close brushes with death than he could count, but for some reason, the one on the Narayanastra scared the living daylights out of him. Was it the nature of the mission? All that he saw on that dreadful station? Or was he rattled by the fact that Ashton almost left him to die a horrible death? Sure, he and Ashton were rivals, but just how many times had it ever gone that far? Either way, Lalli figured he should enjoy his downtime to the fullest, and maybe take time to figure out his next step from here on out. Besides, fear is the mind-killer.

    Lalli started to wonder where Regina was when he suddenly heard an explosion in the distance.



    <The Coldest Story Ever Told>

    Nexus’ eyes widened. At first, he thought Praxter was serious, but he suddenly convinced himself that this was all an elaborate ruse. Praxter was trying to send Nexus West on an undercover mission to find the hidden spy. The cover of an ex-officer turned fugitive was a classic tactic, one that would help him infiltrate the scummiest decks on the ship and get leads.

    “Ah yes, oh no! You’re going to arrest me!” Nexus winked at Praxter, who was no doubt befuddled. “You’ll never stop me, Praxter!”

    He leaned into Praxter and whispered.

    “Undercover op, brilliant idea, sir.”

    Nexus stood up, then nodded at the perplexed guards behind him.

    “Sorry, got to make this look real,” he whispered. Nexus swung his massive arms at them.

    -

    “Hey, HEY! Break it up, you idiots!” Mavis stepped between the two drunken men then flashed her badge. She sighed then sipped her drink, swallowing the device without realizing it.



    <Refugee Escort Mission, Vongola>

    “Bah!” Dingo scoffed, waving a scaly arm. “Don’t you worry. You do enough missions on this rock, you get used to that sort of thing. For me, it’s the paycheck that matters.”

    But Blossom and Luekas weren’t convinced.

    “I’ve got something that’ll help us find out what’s going on,” Blossom whispered.

    She took out a small butterfly-like drone that was embedded in her wrist guard and activated it. The drone quietly fluttered into the tent and began to broadcast Mikurin and Vallerand’s conversation into Blossom’s ear.

    -

    <Kozin’s Camp, Vongola>

    “As you wish, Inquisidora,” Max-Eli bowed. “I will arrange what I can.”



    <Vesa Qatoria>

    A man stepped from the shadows and clapped slowly.

    “Answers indeed,” Prevaius Dahrk chuckled. He glanced at Vehkta and smiled.

    “I recognize you from a dream. And the jalut next to you…extraordinary. And what could be more dream-like than this? I appear because you imagined me, my intelligence latching onto a mere thought to manifest itself physically for a short time. But you….”

    He turned to Blackout, appearing to strain as though he were struggling internally to even maintain a gaze at the Void.

    “You nightmare…you are the chessmaster she spoke to, aren’t you?” he breathed. “I thought you were shiriyr incarnate. But I see now…that you are more than that…you are doom and oblivion itself.”

    Prevaius suddenly vanished into thin air like a vapor.


    _________________
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    Kon
    Kon
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by Kon Tue Dec 21, 2021 5:48 pm

    <Vesa Qatoria>

    A few moments passed while Kakamu stared blankly at Prevaius Dahrk, and then at the spot where the phantom had been standing upon vanishing into thin air, before turning his attention back to Blackout.

    "Friend of yours?" he finally asked, raising an eyebrow behind his mask.

    -----

    <Ahura>

    Startled, Etende spun around and instinctively began to raise her rifle in the direction of Kirk's voice, only to freeze in place before she could bring it to full height. She was lucky that she did: through the adrenaline surging through her veins, she realized that, judging from the fact that the owner of the voice was holding both of his hands in the air rather than on a weapon, she had been a microsecond away from making a lethal mistake. While she waited for her heart rate to return to normal, Etende exhaled in relief and cautiously scanned the four one-eyed androids that were accompanying Kirk, each standing in a defensive posture but with their weapons also lowered. They certainly looked just as deadly as anything else she had seen on Ahura, which is why she did not understand why they were not trying to kill her like everything else.. well, almost everything else.

    "Yeah, um..." Etende replied awkwardly, meeting Kirk's cautious gaze. She quickly turned to Cuttlefish for an explanation, only to find that the assassin had vanished into thin air. Surprised, Etende stretched out her arm and waved it into the air where Cuttlefish had been standing a moment ago, thinking that the assassin had camouflaged herself again, but found the space truly was empty. Etende sighed, realizing that the assassin must have left through the open window the second the others arrived. Either that, or she was going crazy. She was starting to get the feeling it could be both, but she also got the feeling that Cuttlefish was still watching her somehow.

    "My business is, well... I'm a scrapper," Etende replied, smiling nervously before clearing her throat. "My boss thought there was a salvage opportunity on this planet, so we stopped by to check it out. It wasn't until we reached orbit that we realized this place is... unsalvageable."

    There was an awkward silence as Etende waited for a response from Kirk, but the Lupine simply stared back at her cautiously, waiting for her to continue instead. After a few moments, Etende sighed and relented.

    "Long story short, our ship crashed outside the city, and I was... I was the only survivor," she winced upon recalling the painful memory of finding what was left of her friends. "I lasted the next few weeks by eating what's left of the food, but rations don't last forever. I thought the city might have some better stock, but all I've found so far are... bodies. Bodies, and you. I don't know about you, but I don't really feel like dying here, so now I'm looking for a way out."

    While Etende recited her journey, the sound of the convoy thundering towards the city outside got louder and louder. Judging from Kirk's concerned expression, Etende guessed that the convoy wasn't intended for him either.

    "So... truce?" Etende proposed, raising her own hands in response. "Pretty please?"
    drj
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by drj Sun Dec 26, 2021 12:02 am

    <Tanari Intelligence Stealth Ship, 0 AR>

    Olivia Horwath looked into the mirror, and wondered who this hopelessly pale woman with messy blonde hair, scars and bruises covering her face, staring back actually was. It wasn’t just that she looked like shit, although right now she certainly did. On an intellectual level, of course, she knew the reflection was her. But she’d assumed some part of her brain would have an instant reaction of recognition to seeing her own face. Instead, it registered as a blank, or at best, disappointment. This was her, but on some deeper, more fundamental level, it wasn’t. She was weak and feeble. Not at all what she needed to be.

    It was all supposed to be so simple. After spending weeks tracking him down, she approached a Dachori scientist named Serecio with an offer he couldn’t refuse. She planned to trade a case of experimental reconstructive nanites, microscopic machines capable of completely transforming organic matter within seconds, for a number of Arokazek workers and the data he’d collected during his most recent experiments. Had it worked out, it would have been a huge asset to the Tanari war machine, maybe even the start of a longer, mutually beneficial relationship.

    As it was, she stayed with the Dachori for days, awaiting final authorisation from her superiors. Service to the nation meant playing by the rules as set down by the state, after all. Some cowardly, useless, lefty pencil-pusher on Tanari Prime seemed to be getting cold feet - what was the point of an Allman if he allowed such people to carry on? - so she stalled for time. In the meantime, she got to watch the Arokazek, at Serecio’s behest, almost tear apart living beings and put them back together the way they preferred, all in the name of creating a more efficient biological machine. It was… hauntingly beautiful, somehow.

    Finally, Serecio got tired of waiting. Sensing he was being cheated somehow, he cast Olivia out. She barely made it out alive, but she still managed to hold onto the nanites. It would hardly do to leave something that important to the state and nation behind, after all.

    Now, the case was lying open next to her, the simple, metallic syringe full of nanites inside beckoning.

    Olivia wanted to serve Tanar - the state, the nation, whatever, it was all the same in the end, or at least it had to be all the same in the end. It was all she’d ever known, all her family had ever known, all she really wanted to be good at. That was her. The thing in the mirror wasn’t.

    She glanced at the syringe, then thought back to the Arokazek workers on Serecio’s ship. Jim would surely be horrified. Her superiors would surely cry bloody murder. But at least she could start to become what she wanted to become, what she needed to become; the only kind of Horwath Tanar had any use for, Horwath the warrior in the shadows, Horwath the machine.

    Fuck it. Horwath seized the syringe and pressed it into her skin.

    -----

    <Tanari Prime, Jared Harris City>

    As Kirsten Bluth walked towards the chain-link fence, laser cutter in hand, the abiding thought in her mind was that she did not want to do this.

    She did not want to do this. And yet here she was. Her campaign staff, and therefore the media, knew that she was going to inspect the New Order medical camp, even if not quite how she planned to do it. Not that there was any way in hell they were going to let her in.

    She did not want to do this. It had not been her idea. The impulses in her brain telling her to march all the way over here and start trying to slice through the fence were not her impulses. And yet here she was, unable to resist this strange idea that she would never have thought of before she’d visited David Robert Jones’ campaign office to give him a piece of her mind. Aster would have been ashamed of his new alliances, after all.

    There was a movement in one of the watchtowers above. A searchlight flipped on, washing over her. And then a gunshot rang out, and finally did the job of resistance for her.

    —--

    <Tanari Prime, Lyndon City>

    Far away, sitting behind a desk at David Robert Jones’ campaign headquarters, Horwath sighed deeply, her mission complete. This one had felt different to Morgan Peres. She’d actually had the stomach to put up a fight, which only made it all the more satisfying to ensure she did her duty for the nation. A cog in the machine, a drone in the hive.

    Whether the New Order would be capable of detecting the remaining cataxyn in Kirsten’s body was not important to her. After all, her personal supply remained a closely kept secret. As far as anyone knew, cataxyn was only used by the New Order, the same New Order whose troops had just shot dead a Tanari presidential candidate.

    A familiar face peered around the door of her office. “Good grief, woman, are you still working?” sighed David Robert Jones. “A few of the staff and I are having a holiday dinner downstairs. You should come join us.”

    “There’s too much to do,” Horwath shook her head. “Besides, I think your campaign nerds are scared of me.”

    “Well, I believe an Earth poet once said this. Confess: it’s my profession, that alarms you. This is why few people ask me to dinner, though Lord knows I don’t go out of my way to be scary. I wear dresses of sensible cut and unalarming shades of beige, I smell of lavender and go to the hairdresser’s: no prophetess mane of mine, complete with snakes, will frighten the youngsters.

    “Never understood your fascination with those,” said Horwath. “We have moved on. We are Tanari now.”

    “A people is nothing without its history,” Jones wagged his finger. “You’ve chosen to embody your profession. That’s what scares the nerds. Let yourself be more than that, every once in a while.”

    Jones began to head out the door. “I expect you downstairs in ten minutes.” he added as he left.

    —-

    <Near Tanari Prime’s Moon>

    Tanari ships in the area began to scramble, alarmed by the sudden appearance of the fleet. At the same time, Rear Admiral Striborg’s ship received a coded text message from the surface of Tanari Prime.

    “To what do we owe the pleasure?” read the message, signed by Blair Morrison.

    —--

    <Malchior IV, FSA HQ>

    “What a fuckin’ prick,” Turel muttered as they left. “FSA or New Order… all these politicians are the same. He’s a disgrace to your people, Generalissimo.”

    Even now, after his long service for the Armechian revolution, Turel was not exactly a poster boy for structure or discipline. But that wasn’t really the point. The world was full of powerful people whose idea of order went no further than people doing as they were told, and whether they also lived in squalor amidst endless upheaval meant nothing to them. There was no point playing their games - indeed, the promise of the revolution to Turel was just that he would never have to again. Hearing Gaius Malcovus act like the FSA had no part in what was happening to his world… It made him sick.

    Turel had a new goal in life now. Whatever it took, he was going to watch the light in Malcovus’ eyes die.



    Lazran walked into Gaius Malcovus’ office, suppressing a smirk. So this was what victory felt like, he thought. We could get used to it, as a people.

    “Yes, Gaius. Or, should I say, Mr. Secretary General? We’ve won the battle, but not the war,” he said, reaching into his suit’s breast pocket to pull out a data rod. “I’m afraid I have some very bad news for you.” He sat down at one end of the table where Gaius had previously spoken to Figlio, Turel and Jerid.

    “As I’m sure you already know, Gaius, the Malchiorians are not happy with us for derailing their plans,” he said, twirling the data rod between his fingers as he spoke. There was something deeply unnerving, wrong even, about the speed and precision of his movements. “First of all, they’ve been talking to the Vrai behind our backs. And you know the Vrai usually aren’t chatty. But it gets worse. Our spies found out recently that they were holding back some information from the rest of the FSA. They downloaded a set of Narayanastra schematics before the station blew. Gaius, I’m concerned they may want to try and make our administration look ineffective even before we’ve had a chance to settle in.”

    He stopped twirling the data rod, and pushed it across the table to Gaius. If Gaius opened it, he would find an almost complete set of Narayanastra schematics, marked as classified information in Malchiorian. These were authentic, having been downloaded by Martin Hawkes during the attack on the station and subsequently stolen by Tanari spies. The rod also contained pictures of the Vrai ambassador to Malchior leaving the presidential palace, as well as a recording of a conversation between Marianna Gilclack and her aides, in which they discussed ‘punishing’ Malcovus and Dahl for sabotaging the triumvirate plan. The recording, unsurprisingly, was not authentic, although it was so professionally forged, using Bristol Corporation technology, that this would be extremely hard to detect.

    “We have to do something, Gaius. We have the opportunity to beat the New Order, to create a real alliance of equals throughout the galaxy that could last a thousand years. We can’t let these Malcontent bastards take this away from us.” he smirked. “We need to defend that vision. If you have anything we can use against them… now’s the time.”

    —--

    <Moon of Pasaje>

    The first moon of Pasaje was known across the galaxy as a miracle of terraforming. What had once been a barren rock had been transformed, over centuries, into a lush, green and pleasant land with a breathable atmosphere, a haven for the Pasajem upper and upper middle-classes. The troubles of the war against the New Order felt impossibly distant, and with one of their own now leading the FSA, there was hope that it would stay that way.

    It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, and Brutalis was standing at the doorstep of his house, spraying the porch with water from a hose to clean it. There was an absent-minded smile on the Pasajem’s face as he watched the high-pressure water jet smash against the plastisteel of his porch, washing away dirt and leaves and sending droplets flying everywhere. His sprawling, ugly lunar house had cost him a great deal of money, but as a successful transport pilot, he could easily afford it. His wife quit her job, and he sent his teenage children to one of the top private boarding schools on Pasaje. Life was good.

    Suddenly, the sky turned dark, much earlier than it should. Confused, Brutalis turned off the water flow and stepped outside to look up. Something in very low orbit - something blue - was casting a shadow over the whole light side of the moon. As a seasoned pilot, Brutalis could immediately recognise a subspace tunnel when he saw one - except who in their right mind would possibly open a subspace tunnel large enough to be visible from the surface this close to a moon?

    Missile after missile exited the tunnel, but all of them exploded harmlessly far above the surface. The tunnel itself then closed, and the effect appeared to be nothing but an unusually impressive fireworks show. Brutalis shook his head and prepared to go back inside, when suddenly, small pieces of white fluff started raining on the entire area. How odd, he thought as one fell on his head.

    —--

    <Vesa Qatoria>

    “More like a very old enemy,” Blackout sneered. “I have helped to bring something into the world that he sorely wants. He doesn’t understand that he will never get it… and could not control it anyway.” He looked to Vekhta and began monologuing, seemingly forgetting all about Kakamu or the fact that he and Vekhta were there for a specific reason.

    “There is a vicious cycle in life, Vekhta. First a few, like that man, throw the galaxy into upheaval seeking glory and power, and then others demand a firm hand to stop them… a firm hand that just creates more upheaval as it tries to tighten its grip. They say all of this has happened before, and all of this must happen again. Every time it does, all that is solid melts into air… but for me, for us, that has already happened. We can and should help them, Vekhta. No more Sefers, no more Arcs...” he proclaimed grandly, noticeably stressing the word ‘Arc’. He sounded unlike the Blackout Vekhta had known before

    The Void shook his head, and remembered Kakamu’s presence - something that seemingly came uncomfortably to him. “So you’ve returned seeking help, then,” he said. “Come, then. You can tell me more about it in the base, where we shouldn’t have any more unwanted interruptions… especially since I’ve sent Shepard on a mission.” He turned and began leading them down the tunnel, and into the Espiritu Santo base itself.

    The base itself was an immense cavern, with a number of dull grey metal prefabricated buildings scattered here and there, guard posts and sniper nests carved into the walls, and jagged tunnels snaking off in all directions. However, the most menacing thing of all was very small - an ornate mirror being wheeled between two prefabs, right in front of Kakamu and Vekhta.

    Blackout led the two into one of the prefabs, a simple affair whose centrepiece was a table that could fit maybe six people. On the table, dangerously close to each other, were a pot of tea and a holographic projector that was currently displaying a star chart. As soon as the three entered, the door slammed shut automatically. A blue light next to it lit up, indicating that countermeasures that would scramble any listening or recording device had been activated. While it could never hurt to be careful, it was usually supremely unlikely that anyone carrying any such device would have made it into the base - except, of course, Blackout had no reason to trust Kakamu.

    “Very well, then,” he said, sitting down. “Tell me what happened.”

    -----

    <Yari III, Old Saskana>

    Aster’s gunship was about a few seconds away from the villa, which meant that it was snap decision time. She had no way of knowing who was inside, only that the Green Helmets wanted them alive. In theory, that was reason alone to help them, but she couldn’t help everyone, and taking a detour could put her whole plan at risk.

    And then it occurred to Aster that none of that was true. There was no plan. ‘Step 1, find Rain, step 2, ???’ didn’t constitute a plan. She wasn’t risking some grand design. And of course she could help whoever she damn well wanted. There was no point to holding power otherwise.

    The gunship’s radar chirped, indicating that something big, that the system couldn’t identify, was heading in her direction. That finally made her mind up - whatever was in that villa had to be very important indeed. Bombs away, she thought.

    —-

    “Are you trying to be the new centre, or are you trying to be another martyr?” North sneered.

    Outside, Green Helmets began to get out of their armoured vehicles, and spread out in order to block off all possible exits. Several began to march towards the front door. “THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING!” one of them yelled loud enough for those inside to hear.

    “Some of us have managed to be neither,” said Shae. “Well, your cavalry has about 30 seconds to turn up, so I suppose I’d better go stall for time.” She left to open the front door, cursing internally as she did. The men with her didn’t seem able to actually do anything concrete without being pushed, and it was just her luck to get stuck with people like that at a time like this.

    As Shae walked down the fancy, spiral staircase, she could hear a renewed commotion outside. There was a rumbling noise coming from outside, getting closer and closer, followed by sounds of gunfire, people yelling, and even the distinctive whoosh of an explosion. And finally, there was silence. She approached the front door with trepidation, and took a deep breath before opening it, almost expecting to be gunned down by Green Helmets as soon as she did.

    Truth be told, nothing could have prepared her for what she saw when she finally did open the door. The imposing armoured vehicles were in flames, and the lawn was covered with the melting silver corpses of Green Helmets. And of course, in front of her stood a woman who, last time she’d checked, was dead, and whose death had kicked off this whole mess.

    Aster and Shae Eachan could never have been described as friends. On the few occasions they’d met, they had always recognised that they had more in common than not, but thus far, they’d been on opposite sides, and so nothing could come of it.

    “Aster!” Shae cried, almost half-delirious. “Fuck me, is it really you?”

    “I’m afraid so.”

    Shae still struggled to even catch her breath, let alone speak. “But-but, how did you-”

    “I’ll explain later. Who’s with you?”



    Shae half-walked, half-stumbled back into the dining room, and fell back into a chair. Her limbs were shaking. She looked shell-shocked, but before anyone could ask her what had happened, the cause became apparent all by itself, as Aster unceremoniously marched into the room.

    “Mett!” she yelled, pointing at him. “Where the hell are Rain and Kirsten?”

    “T-they took off to investigate who killed you!” Mett stammered out, but still had the presence of mind to ask what was, under the circumstances, the right question. “B-but… how can we know it’s really you?”

    Aster looked vaguely annoyed as she found herself trying to think of something no one else would reasonably know, taking a few seconds to settle on an answer. “You had an argument with the organist at the Homecoming Church. Something about sidewalks.” she said.

    With Mett seemingly satisfied - although, with her mind, working at a million miles an hour, she wasn’t really leaving him enough time to say so - she then turned to Peter North. “You!” she said. “What the fuck were you thinking, abandoning your post like that?” She resumed talking before he could actually answer. “Nevermind, I don’t even want to know. And you.” She turned to Skydda. “Shield-Man Jones Skydda. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you, just like I’m going to kill Richard Branley.”

    —--

    <Yari III, Rain’s Safehouse>

    “Field two kliks west of where you’re transmitting from, ETA roughly… thirty-five minutes,” said Vigeland. “Carrying a droid squad and enough guns to blow the shit out of Shangri-La.”

    The entire conversation had taken place within earshot of Enrique. “Wait,” the Shifter asked. “You’re not gonna leave me here, are you? I can get you into places!”

    —--

    <The Coldest Story Ever Told>

    Despite the display Oblique had just put on being objectively impressive, the agent seemed completely unfazed.

    “You think you’re special, don’t you, Mr. Radiance? Exempt from the rules that govern the rest of us.” the agent snarled. “Yes, Mr. Radiance, I think I will.”

    He opened fire, each shot missing the Lithan but causing a surprising amount of destruction for a mere projectile weapon. One bullet ruptured a nearby pipe, spraying a fine mist into the air and making it harder for Oblique to see.

    The agent growled. In the blink of an eye, he was suddenly next to Oblique, and let loose with a powerful cross punch.



    The two drunken men walked away surprisingly easily upon seeing Mavis’ badge. Only a few seconds after she swallowed the device, a shadow fell on her as one of the hovering platforms for VIPs passed overhead. It then suddenly began to descend, landing on an unoccupied part of the dancefloor right in front of Mavis. On the platform, lounging on a luxurious-looking red coach and flanked by two men who looked identical to the one currently attacking Oblique, as well as (presumably still) Lord Antivaks, was Sophie Vinderen, still sipping a glass of fruit juice.

    “Detective Deacon,” she said. “Please, come join me. I think we have a few things to talk about.”



    Praxter was caught completely off-guard by Nexus’ comment. Surely, he couldn’t actually believe that. Obviously, Nexus was a master spy, trying to play mind games with him and sow discord among the crew. He was only more certain of his guilt now.

    The guards were thrown back into the wall and knocked out. Prush swung his electro-baton at Nexus, and Praxter took out a taser and fired it at him.

    -----

    <Micho>

    Ashton, wearing not much other than a speedo, walked among the hot springs. What Amanda had said to him still gnawed at him. It was probably true that he was the type to get fixated on things. Maybe even a little too fixated, but even then, so what? It didn’t affect his work at all! Hadn’t he just shown that? And where did Amanda get off, worrying about her being next? He figured it was just a ridiculous way of getting his attention, but god, what a self-obsessed thing to say!

    Whatever. Right now, he just wanted to let his hair down - quite literally, as his hair, usually arranged in a floppy mohawk, was all over the place now that he didn’t need to worry about it blocking his aim - and not think about these things. As it turned out, there, in one of the hot springs, was exactly the wrong man to not think about things with - or maybe the right man?

    He got into the hot spring next to Lalli, closing his eyes in delight as he felt his battered muscles relax in the heat. “Hey, man,” he said. “How’s it going?”

    And then, he too heard the explosion. “What the hell was that?” he mumbled. “Is this normal around here?”



    That is the sort of thing I mean,” Amanda said, once the mildly muffled sound of the corpse exploding outside had hopefully stopped ringing in everyone’s ears. She did her best to ignore the smell, not that she hadn’t encountered worse. “Organic explosives like that are probably one of the nicer surprises I’ve seen them leave for their enemies. Some of the worst people this side of the New Order.”

    “I met them on one of my first jobs as a merc. It was an NQA job. Get in, kill the target, get out. Turned out we should have asked questions.” The guards awkwardly averted their eyes as Amanda suddenly lifted her top slightly, exposing her belly button. There was a very nasty scar on her midriff, one long since healed but still quite visible. “The target was one of Ocelot’s sons. He tortured the party to death one-by-one, and then sewed one of those explosives into me and dropped me back on my employer’s doorstep. They barely got it out of me in time.”

    —--

    <Vongola, Refugee Escort Mission>

    As the mercenaries stood around, waiting for Blossom to tell them what she could hear, a few children noticed their arrival. “Woah, that’s so cool!” one boy said, pointing to their weapons and ATVs. The kids ran up to the mercs. “Are you here to kick Figlio’s ass?” asked one girl.



    Just before entering the tent, Vallerand suddenly stopped and blocked Sergei’s path. Neither of them noticed the drone hanging nearby - any sound it might have made was drowned out by the faint chanting and growling seemingly coming from inside the tent. “Mr. Mikurin, before I show you this, I have to ask,” Vallerand asked. “Before you came… here, what was your background?”

    The question left Sergei bemused. “I was with the Tanari military for a long time. Quit in protest.” he replied, deciding not to drop his entire life story on Vallerand as he had when speaking to Walker.

    “Good. Then you’ll have seen more disturbing things,” the long-haired man said. Sergei, suspecting a jab at his expense, wanted to ask what exactly Vallerand was implying, but had no time to do so as Vallerand led him inside. The tent was long, with a few scattered pieces of equipment lying here and there and a thick burgundy screen blocking off part of it. The chanting and growling seemed to be coming from behind it.

    Vallerand resumed talking, seemingly not bothered by whatever was going on behind the screen. “They say that when the first Riders came across Vongola eons ago, they had no plans to remain here. They insisted it was just a stepping stone for them, and aside from a few who had fallen in love with the planet, they meant it. Most K’thaan had no problem with that. It was only after the collapse of their Empire that Dachori became a mainstay here. But a few K’thaan elders remained sceptical. They feared the Riders’ hunger for power would not spare Vongola for long once it was known to them.”

    “Well, that’s certainly come true,” Sergei shrugged and took a drag of his cigarette. Part of him told him he probably shouldn’t be smoking in a tent, but he was long past caring at this point. “Please get to the point, Mr. Vallerand.”

    “K’thaan legend says that those rogue elders developed a weapon, to be used against the Dachori should they ever go too far,” Vallerand continued, unfazed by Sergei’s obvious impatience. “If you can call it a ‘weapon’. The legend says they locked the soul of a powerful warrior into an object to preserve it. Should it ever be necessary, a K’thaan pure of heart could unleash the soul and allow it to sweep away the invasion. The name they give this object is… well, it starts with a K, but beyond that it’s not really pronounceable in our languages. It roughly translates as ‘angel of the K’thaan’.”

    “Allman always loved legends like that,” said Sergei. “Never got him a damn thing.” While the insistent noise coming from behind the screen, which seemed decidedly inhuman, was making him more and more suspicious, he nevertheless couldn’t help but be sceptical of such stories.

    “Mr. Mikurin, I have been a xenoarchaeologist for over twenty-five years. ‘Legends like that’ are often the first step to discovery… and profit.” Vallerand walked up to the screen, and began to pull it back. “Anyway, in this case, it’s not a matter of belief anymore.”

    Behind the screen was a young K’thaan woman, who was the source of the strange noises. While she was covered in armour from head to toe, as K’thaans tended to be around outsiders, a complicated series of markings indicated her identity - and, of course, matched the description Drex had given Sergei. Something was very wrong though - there were multiple jagged gaps in the armour, as if something had ripped through it, and a sort of blood red scaly growth was poking through it, completely covering her skin. The locket was hanging around her neck, except it seemed to have partially melted into the armour.

    “She put it on a few days ago, I think out of curiosity. We’d had people do it before, so she probably didn’t think it would activate it. It set off a massive flare of some kind. VPR almost certainly spotted it. She’s been catatonic ever since. I think it’s… melding with her, somehow.”

    “So the only thing your super-duper weapon, if that’s what it even is, can do is tell our enemies where we are,” Sergei groaned. “Great. I fucking hate Vongola.”



    Off in the distance, two men in VPR camouflage gear were standing on a dune. One of them was looking at the camp through hi-tech binoculars, while the other bore the insignia of a Commander.

    The first man put the binoculars down and saluted. “Commander.”

    “Is it them?” said Commander Pericles Abbasi.

    The man licked his lips. “I do believe it is, sir.”

    “Good. Keep watching them. We’ll attack when they’re gearing up to set off.”

    —--

    <Vongola, Kozin’s Camp>

    The next morning, Inquisidora Kora was already sitting in her own Vrai ATV, waiting for Max-Eli to come so he could give her directions and passage into the governor of Tarzia’s camp.

    —--
    JS
    JS
    Cruel Angel's Thesis
    Cruel Angel's Thesis


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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by JS Thu Dec 30, 2021 5:48 pm

    [ Malchior IV, 1 BR ]

    OOS: Klak ghost-wrote this.

    Hayley Fieldstone had once heard a saying; there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen. Evidently, there were days where decades happened, too.

    It had started off with a call from her estranged mother, with whom Hayley had not spoken for nearly three years - and with the promise of, at long last, the truth. Jennifer Fieldstone's penchant for keeping secrets from her teenage daughter had driven a wedge between the two that time had done little to heal. Hayley half expected this latest olive branch to be yet another bundle of lies, but nonetheless had set out to her home city to hear what she had to say. There were things her mother kept from her - the identity of her father, and just where the Fieldstone family got its wealth from - that Hayley couldn't bear not knowing.

    She would have to bear a little longer, however, as when she arrived at her childhood home she found it engulfed in flames, the police outside. Jennifer Fieldstone was dead. Hayley turn and ran, half tempted to scream, half tempted to cry, full of raw feeling that had not yet been translated into hate or sadness or anger - half convinced this was yet another lie, another scheme, another desperate move from attention for a desperate woman. She darted into an alleyway, loosing a scream of no emotion in particular... and attracting a group of street criminals who emerged from the shadows, weapons drawn.

    "What the heck do you guys want?" she asked.

    "We just wanted to pay our compliments to such a pretty girl" said one of the men, grinning maliciously. One of the other criminals, a bug-headed alien, loosed a series of krrrrks and kzzzts which his companions quickly interpreted.

    "My friend here... wants to sample your DNA."

    Before Hayley could even respond, a voice boomed out from the rooftop above her.

    "Sample this!"

    The mysterious protector jumped down, landing on one of the criminals and breaking their back. The bug-headed alien turned and shot a web of acid, which was blocked mid-air by an invisible energy shield before being shot back at the alien himself, cutting into his exoskeleton and sending him running away, buzzing in pain. The two other criminals dropped their weapons and fell to their knees.

    "Please! We surrender!"

    "Don't let me catch you around here ever again." instructed Officer Klak. "Get the hell out of here!"

    The criminals complied and ran off, disappearing into the night. Klak took Hayley by the hand and helped her to his feet. Little did she know her mysterious savior would one one day become the President of Malchior... and little did he know that one day, her turn would come to replay the favor.

    [ Phoenix Talon, Present Day ]

    Hayley made her way through the corridors of the ship, her weapon drawn. In the years since her mother's death, Hayley had become a police officer herself and risen through the ranks of the Secret Service - the civilian police force that protected the Malchiorian President. During times of war, the President was generally accompanied by September Dawn agents instead, and so the Secret Service had come to be viewed as something of a laughing stock - but Hayley didn't care. If it meant she got to protect the man she idolized - and maybe even see him on occasion - it was worth it.

    Plus, the present situation put a unique spin on things - as the majority of the September Dawn agents on the ship were currently trying to kill the President.

    She kicked her way into the cockpit, catching a brief glimpse of a mysterious man addressing the pilots through a holotransmitter embedded in the dashboard. The mysterious figure looked to her, frowned disapprovingly, and mouthed a phrase she didn't need to hear to understand.

    Kill her.

    The pilots' seats spun around and they leapt towards Hayley; she opened fire with her service pistol, but the rounds simply bounced off their energy shielding. As they closed towards her, she slid a knife from her belt, remembering her shield-fighting training.

    Training that assumed she would be wearing a shield too.

    She fell back as they pushed towards her, unleashing a flurry of kicks, chops and punches that had been downloaded into their minds by their malicious neural implants. Hayley used her knife to block the obvious attacks and tried her best to direct the rest into the less vulnerable areas of her body - one of the few advantages of fighting a shield-user was that the shield served to naturally increase the surface area that made contact, spreading the force out over a wider area. Still, she fought herself beaten around by the two men who attacked like wild animals, fighting with no self-preservation instict.

    They pushed her out of the entrance way to the cockpit, into the corridor beyond; one of them retrieved a fire axe from the wall and began to swing wildly, cutting into the interior hull plating and circuitry, narrowly missing Hayley. The second man sunk in under the axe-wielder's wide swings and made a low sweep towards Hayley's leg; Hayley duck down low, positioning her knife so that the man's ankle flew into it just slowly enough to let the blade pierce his shield. It slid out back out as Hayley rolled back to avoid the axe, the sound of the man's blood evaporating against the inner surface of his shield filling the corridor with a hiss. Hayley settled into a fighting stance as the two attackers regained their composure.

    "If either of you want to think about settling this peacefully..."

    The two men looked to eachother, and nodded. They grabbed hold of two levers on either side of the corridor and began to pull - it took Hayley a moment to realize what they were planning. The cockpit of the ship could detach and become an escape pod in emergency - and by detaching it, they would leave Klak trapped in the rest of the ship as it crashed through the atmosphere, with no way of controlling it. Hayley ran towards them, and the axe wielder stepped away from his lever, spinning the axe around in one hand and throwing it towards Hayley. She ducked under it, sliding across the floor, and sliding under the man's legs, driving the knife upwards to cut his abdomen in half as she did. He fell to the floor, and Hayley wasted no time in smashing the remaining pilot's head into his lever, knocking him out cold.

    An alarm tone began to sound. Cockpit detaching. Cockpit detaching. Cockpit-"

    "Shit!"

    In knocking out the pilot, Hayley had accidentally pushed the lever he had been operating fully into the downwards position, disengaging one of the two locks. The other lever shook up and down - the second lock behind loosened by the sheer re-entry pressure the ship was experiencing as it hurtled through the atmosphere. She ran over to it and gripped it for dear life, lifting it upwards with all her strength, willing the cockpit to stay attached. Shit. Shit. This isn't how she wanted to die. She was a police officer, not a -

    "What the heck happened here?"

    A pair of men entered the corridor; one ran past Hayley, climbing into the cockpit and wrestling with the controls; the other took up position behind her, trying to lift the other lever back up, engaging the lock. He did so instantly, with superhuman strength - and then turned, curtly pushing Hayley out of the way and engaging her lever too. The alarm died out as both sets of locks engaged, securing the cockpit module to the ship. Hayley looked up at her savior - for the second time. He readied a blast of power, not sure if she was yet another of the sleeper agents he and Salem had just fought their way through.

    "...and who the heck are you?"

    OOS: Klak can now control this character given that he ghostwrote this segment.

    ---

    [ Vesa Qatoria ]

    "There's... something on Nil'Nara."

    Vekhta focused on the mission, pushing all personal thoughts to one side. She wanted to address Blackout - tell him his obsession with vengeance was wrong and that there was another way - but even with Kakamu by her side, she wasn't quite sure she believed all that. For now, she needed Blackout - which meant Blackout needed purpose, and it was not her place to rob him of it.

    "Psychic, Antipsychic, I'm not sure. But the New Order's interested in it, which means it can't be good. We... I... need you, Blackout. You're a void. This thing on Nil'nara is on a whole other level."

    She looked down at her right hand, clenching and unclenching her fingers. Blackout probably noticed she had a different prosthetic than she'd had previously; Blackout probably wanted to ask about that, too, but Kakamu's presence seemed to make him too uncomfortable to do so. She was thankful to Kakamu for that.

    "Simply put - we need to find out whether we need to kill it." she added. "And if we do need to kill it... well, you get the gist."
    drj
    drj
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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

    Post by drj Mon Jan 03, 2022 2:48 am

    <Vesa Qatoria>

    Blackout narrowed his eyes slightly, listening to Vekhta speak. “Nil’nara,” he repeated quietly, rolling the name in his mouth. The name ‘Nil’nara’ resonated somewhere in the recesses of the dark, dusty vault that was Blackout’s memory. He wasn’t sure if he himself had encountered it, or if another Void had, but either way, it rang a bell.

    At the same time, something else bothered him. Vekhta had had no reaction to him expounding his proposal, his dream. She’d just politely ignored it, which suggested to him that she disapproved, even though he had actually changed. He no longer just wanted vengeance, he wanted to play a constructive role. Maybe she just didn’t believe him, in which case he just had to prove it to her.

    But there was another, darker possibility. He noticed that Vekhta hadn’t asked about Lilith Heyerdahl yet, even though he would have thought she might have taken an interest. Her prosthetic arm had been replaced, with one that just happened to be a very similar colour to the individual who had come with her. An individual who, by his own admission, had been part of the same New Order that had only recently forced false memories into Vekhta’s mind, and condemned her to living out a lie. The operatives of the New Order were hardly renowned for their morality, and they had already proven they did not respect Vekhta’s individuality one iota. Seen through that lens, the colour of the prosthetic came off almost as a twisted joke, a mark of ownership, a taunt. Blackout was furious. Just thinking about it made him want to destroy Kakamu there and then, to inflict on him a thousandfold of what he had inflicted on Lilith. He just barely managed to remind himself that he needed to be sure that that was what was happening.

    He desperately needed to know more about what was on Nil’nara than Vekhta seemed able - or willing - to tell him. If the New Order really wanted whatever was there, then taking it away from them was clearly the right thing to do - and who knew, maybe it could be of some use to him. But if his fears about Kakamu were correct, then he and whatever Vekhta had become while away from him could very well be trying to lure him into a trap on behalf of the New Order, or use him to unlock Nil’nara’s secret for themselves and then dispose of him.

    It occurred to him that there was a way to kill two birds with one stone. “I may be able to help you,” he said softly. “But I will need your memories. Full access. Raw, unvarnished memories… to find whatever traces it may have left in your minds. It may hurt, but I’m afraid there’s no other way.”

    He looked Kakamu in the eye. He wanted to see the bastard’s reaction, to see if he would squirm, or try to find an excuse not to allow Blackout into his mind. That would be the first stage. The New Order would have been foolish to not have prepared for such an eventuality, but one had to start somewhere. There would surely be many more layers to peel back, like an onion, but if that was what it would take to save Vekhta, then he would relish ripping them all off, one by one, as painfully as possible.

    And if they were telling the truth about Nil’nara, then one way or another, the New Order was going to regret bringing it to his attention.

    —--

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    BZPB: Resurgence - Page 7 Empty Re: BZPB: Resurgence

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