Border Patrol

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Timescale set

Mission time +14 days, 3 hours, 27 minutes, 9 seconds and counting

Scythian "Monarch" Class Battleship "Solaris"

Scythian task group Atlantia Four - 1x Monarch Class Battleship with 5x Savager Class Frigates as Escorts

Current Location - Scythian North Rim, "Devator" Star System


Space is awesome, it is also - most notably, empty and boring . . . well, most of the time anyway.

These where the thoughts drifting through the head of lieutenant Safros, as he sat in front of the ever updating Ladar screen.

Asteroid this, meteoroid that, gaseous substances detected here, unusual magnetic fluctuations there, odd planetary bodies here, there and everywhere - and then there's that good old friend to space - the vacuum - vast, huge, perhaps infinite, both completely deadly - and completely boring at the same time.

This had been the fourth hour of his shift as the task group continued its patrol around the north rim worlds. Many would consider this a moot assignment for those who had no interest in, well - anything really. Every Scythian world held its own resident navy that was considerably larger than a simple task group, and countless ships flowed throughout the Scythian empire - no incursion could go for long without being logged - and within moments reserve fleets would be en-route to the source of conflict, so endlessly patrolling the nothing that filled the gaps between the maps of Scythian space was a dead end job, for those with no imagination to do anything else with their existence.

10 years of mandatory military service, that was all it took to gain citizenship - the first 5 for Safros had been filled with basic training, endless days of marksman training, PT, unit drills and mechanical training that every single man woman and child would be indoctrinated into at the age of 18, his second 5 had been filled with officer school - endless technical specifications of every Scythian space asset in the universe, the yield of every laser and warhead, the tonnage and shield strength of every vessel - the layout of known enemy ships - how to map unknown enemy ships - how to best combat the VOL, if need be - how to kill an Immortal. First contact drills (the most current being how to handle the Assyrians - who the Scythian Office Of Naval Intelligence had been spying on for over the last 20 years, and no contact had yet been made, the best option was to let them come to Scythia - rather than the other way around), combat strategies and three dimensional combat drills.

All of this, every piece of knowledge and training - led to a lieutenants rank, sat in front of a rotating Ladar display - watching nothing.

Sometimes life really fucking sucks? Doesn't it?

His concentration waning, Safros peered up for a moment around the bridge - the rest of the command crew going about their duties on their various stations. His attention, as with every time his eyes wandered from his station - fell onto the ships Pilot, a young woman by the name of Cylen . . . to many, she wouldn't be much above average - but when your trapped in deep space, in a fairly small room with little else to look at, you find that your eyes often wander, and as per usual they fell down to the sight of her backsi-

It was at that point, he heard the beep.

Usually on a starship bridge - you where surrounded by various "boops", "beeps" and even the occasional "Bloop's" that are the general running of the ship, every so often the ships intercom would buzz, or someone would dare to speak aloud. Usually these noises would be harmless, innocuous - a plasma overheat in section 13-b, a laser lense would need re-alignment in one of the secondary laser cannons or some usual drone from the ship.

This beep however, was different - this beep was coming from his console, the console he was too busy ignoring in the favor of the pilots, rear. His head turned back quickly - and his eyes darted.


INBOUND JUMP DETECTED

DANGER CLOSE PROXIMITY

VESSEL TONNAGE UNKNOWN - SUGGESTS SUPER-DREADNOUGHT CLASS VESSEL

WARNING

EVASIVE ACTION REQUIRED


Moments later, the bridge erupted into life - klaxons wailed - the crew startled into action and Safros was left in front of a monitor that for all intents and purposes was predicting incoming doom. The Captain came running onto the deck, demanding status updates - and blood red holograms ignited the air with three dimensional Ladar images, inbound and outbound vectors - and the jump point that was soon to share the same space as the Solaris.

At least Life wasn't boring any more, the sarcastic side of his mind suggested.

- - -

Space itself boiled. Any decent scientist could tell you that space itself boiling is an illusion, a mere habit of the universe - the reaction to a mass moving faster than the speed of light that creates various forms of "exit" radiation that dilates momentarily before an objects arrival.

However, space was boiling everywhere, the Solaris was surrounded by a fresh space/time event that was the precursor to its destruction. People ran everywhere - emergency klaxons wailed, the Captain barked orders to and fro and Safros was left dumbstruck in front of his console.

"GIVE ME AN INCOMING VECTOR!"

"VESSEL IS SOME FORM OF SUPER-DREADNAUGHT, ARRIVAL iN-"

"ENGINES GIVE ME FULL REVERSE THRUST, PREPARE TO FIRE THE DOWNWARDS MANOUVERING THRUSTERS!"

"ARM-"

"INCOMING FTL!"

The Solaris struggled to come to life, increasing its own forward speed and firing its downwards thrusters, the great ship struggled to lift itself out of the oncoming wake - the smaller frigates split away from their defensive formations as space itself split and a vast form emerged from somewhere far distant in the galaxy.

Then, the lights dimmed suddenly, with a resounding boom - and everything shook. Artificial gravity wavered and then de-activated, throwing objects and people on random vectors around the ship, off of desks, chairs and bulkheads. On the bridge itself an un-prepared deck hand was caught in the middle of a frantic dash with a holo-screen in hand. She gasped as her stride launched her off the deck, and then let out a short panicked yelp as she departed from the ground. Moments later she hit the ceiling bulkhead with a sickening crunch and then scraped the ceiling with her temple, her head stuck at a sickening 90 degree angle backwards.

Safros turned his eyes away, struggling to keep his cool as bile rose in his throat, she had been killed cold without a shot fired - he didn't even know her name, and later - her cause of death would be put down to simple "Mechanical malfunction" he knew space travel could be dangerous, but that had simply been pointless - a life snuffed out in a moment.

"Police the Corporals body later" The Captain snapped out to the bridge officers, breaking the silence "Lieutenant Safros - Give me anything you have on that ship"

Safros's eyes darted back to his monitor, everything was on him as his fingers darted over the screen, struggling to re-activate computer systems and sensors. A moment later power returned and the screen burst into glorious life.


VESSEL IDENTIFIED

BRITANIAN "CANTERBURY" CLASS SUPER-DREADNOUGHT

VESSEL IDENTIFIED AS "CHELSEA SMILE"

BRITANIAN 19th FLEET OF NEW PORTSMOUTH


Safros turned back to the Captain and began "Sir, we have a reading, I'm not sure you're going to make of this . . . "

- - -

The Chelsea Smile had emerged into real space in a belch of exotic fire, huge portions of its front Armour had been gouged away, leaving reams of open decks and super structure open to space, still venting atmosphere, fire and drive plasma into space. It's underside launch bays had been reamed open into a vast slash across the underside of the once proud vessel. Once mighty weapon turrets had been ripped away, leaving potholes across the broken hull, and half of its bridge section had been torn asunder. Almost all of the power had been drained from its nuclear reactors and its FTL system still leaked volatile radiation into the coldness of space, painting the whole region in beta and gamma particles, creating beautiful but deadly plumes of invisible energies.

The shadow it cast over the bridge was undeniable, Safros could make out hundreds upon hundreds of tiny fires spouting from its outer hull.

The captain turned from station to station attempting to assess the situation, to little avail. Power still fluctuated, monitors would flicker in and out of life, the lights would turn on and off out of all control and various systems gained and lost short bouts of power across the ship.

Through the outer bridge windows, Safros could only make out the now tiny, drifting specs that once where the Solaris's frigate escorts - in the same situation the smaller vessels would suffer to re-activate their single core antimatter systems with even fewer redundancy systems to back up their combat systems.

In the vast distance, un-noticed by failing sensors, hundreds of specs broke free of the hull of the Chelsea smile, powered by unholy energies they sped across the darkness between the war vessels. No metal hull to detect, no tell tale engine signatures to announce their arrival, the ovoid ships slammed into their targets.

One frigate exploded outright, split asunder after being hit by three vessels one after the other. Another was split in half by a cross shot, atmosphere, fire and unprotected crew thrown into the void, doomed to drift around in deep space for eternity.

Another frigate however, was not as lucky to suffer the luxury of a sudden death, as the strange white vessel broke through the hull - the only sign that anything had even happened where the bursts of small arms fire shot out in odd, concentric angles.

When the last frigate turned to fire on odd specs in the void, the situation suddenly became clear. The Solaris was the next target, and hundreds upon hundreds of the un natural vessels where descending upon it . . .

- - -

They swarmed. Hundreds of ovoid vessels, each as large as an assault shuttle - turning to and fro in the void, slamming into the hull of the Solaris, completely bypassing its failed shields and beyond the wrath of its laser turrets - first dozens, and then almost a hundred of the ships collided with the hull, forcing their way into the ship.

It was only at this point, that sensors re-activated and internal alarms wailed - boarding alarms and hull breaches across the holographic display of the Solaris that dominated the centre of the bridge.

The captain grabbed Safros by the shoulder and broke him from a panic induced moment of non-action.

"Lieutenant, are you here? are you good?"

"Ye-yes captain . . . " Safros stammered in return.

"What have we got here?"

The sensors struggled to keep their bearings on the odd vessels as standard ideas of materials and physics seems to bounce off of them in wild sparks of non-solved equations and unknown mathematics.

"No occupants . . . no engines, no power source . . . these things are solid all the way through sir . . . solid . . . "

"What? What have you got?!"

"The ships sir . . . they are solid bone . . . "

- - -

In aft section, deck six a young gunnery Sargent by the name of Harkins ran. He ran hard.

The sound of laser fire could be heard ahead, that fast sound of boiling air and recharging anti-matter vials - fast - to fast to be a rifle carbine rifle, a deck hands pistol, somewhere up ahead, someone was fighting for their life. The deck lights thrummed under the shudder of another collision, and then failed - a scream of death could only just be heard over the solid boom of yet another explosive decompression.

As a Scythian Marine, he was trained to be the best, the best of thousands of millions, above standard or tactical infantry - trained for every situation, to assess and react in a moment, he turned down one corridor and up another set of stairs - he bound over the corpse of a dead engineering officor, laser pistol in hand, and blood gushing from his chest - open wound, the projectile was still inside . . .

It was at that moment, he saw the movement in front of him and dived into the opening of a side corridor, just in time to watch the space he just ran through being filled with deadly projectiles - white, bone white - and fast . . . some form of flachette gun perhaps?

The barrage stopped for a moment, he dropped to his knees, turned and fired.

What faced him was a menagerie that could only have been born from some level of hell he was sure he was one day going to occupy.

Its form was tall, twisted - gleaming white bones, no flesh or skin - just bone, its skull wrapped in a deathly sadistic grin, carrying some form of rifle also made out of solid bone.

He had seen it, it had seen him - unluckily enough for the undead beast, it had been a moment too slow.

Harkin's finger jammed down on the trigger finger, and blue lances of light capable of scoring through tank armour shot forth, removing the unfortunate creature of the use of its legs. As it fell to the floor it took another blast of its chest, before the final blast caused its skull to explode like a fragmentation grenade. Its remains fell to the floor, still smouldering.

Before Harkin's could find time to lower his rifle, he saw what it had been stood in front of. Breaking through the hull was a gateway of bone, the orifice that the strange craft had created. The entire drop ship was bone, and it was splitting itself down into foot soldiers until there would be none of itself left, leaving the entire section open to space.

Behind him more footsteps rattled, more marines coming forward to the fight . . . and in front - skeletal fists burst through the hull breach, followed my arms and weapons, and more demoniacally grinning faces . . .

- - -

Combat boots pounded against solid titanium deck plating, the whine of laser carbines filled the air, which was hot and dry, and stank of death. Harkin's was down on one knee, he held his laser carbine rifle to his shoulder with a death grip - acquire target, charge, fire - acquire target, charge, fire. 7 years of service and training drilled into him - the calm repetitive motion of battery firing dropped skeleton after skeleton as they emerged from the orifice in the Solaris's hull. He knew more soldiers had taken positions somewhere behind him - and yet more had taken up positions on the far side of the corridor. their combined fire only just holding back a horde of undead monstrosities that where determined to rip apart all life in front of them.

It was only then he started to notice the breeze for himself - a slow trickle of air from behind him, as more undead split off from the main mass - air was escaping from the hull breach . . . and when the undead stopped.

Complete decompression.

Harkin's pulled back into his small heath of safety and yelled back to the marines behind him.

"CEASE FIRE!"

The barrage continued, unrelentingly - combat training had unfortunately been drilled into these troops so hard that they had focused on the tactical picture, and not the strategic.

"WILL YOU FUCKS CEASE FIRE?! YOU'LL KILL US ALL!"

It was at that moment the hull started to buckle, the barrage continued as the flow of skeletons stopped - and then one was pulled suddenly back into the main mass, and the breeze turned into a full blown gale force wind. The barrage stopped - and Harkin's ran back, keeping all focus on his grip to the floor and the hull, not stopping to look behind him.

His fellow soldiers however, had not realized what was happening - decompression alarms began to sound, and before they could even move against the flow of events - one was lifted clean off of his feet, with no foot or handholds, he was lifted up and down the corridor - and then straight into the vien covering of bone across the hull breach. He still screamed as Harkins bolted down the corridor section.

He screamed as Harkin's hit the bulkhead seal, and a meter thick titanium bulkhead sealed the unfortunate soul from Harkins and his fellow soldier.

He still screamed as the blood that flowed from the bone spikes that impaled him flowed out into space, and then froze into red globules.

He still screamed as the air itself finally gave way to deep space. He still screamed inside his own head for another minute as his trachea froze, his eyes and ears burst, and then he finally suffered cardiac arrest.

Harkins turned to the commander of the infantry unit that had been providing support - dazed and confused from the attack, and the sudden loss of one of his men.

"Soldier, Report"

The soldier stood there, as if in another world from his unending stare into the nothing above Harkins shoulder.

"SOLDIER! REPORT! Do you know anything about what's happening to the ship?!"

" . . . Multiple hull breaches . . . skeletons everywhere . . . no internal comms . . . everything is passed on by word of mouth . . . " The soldier garbled out in half-sentences.

His sub-ordinates however, while shocked - still looked as if they could be in the fight, Harkins turned to them and started to rattle off orders.

"Looks like your squad leader is FUBAR - so listen up. Put him in a hole somewhere, out of the way, safe and sound - Then get to work. These things are both troop carriers and weapons - as they split down they cause hull breaches, too many of those and this ship is dead. Contain these things and lock down the affected sections. Its a battle of attrition - do NOT let these things win, or they take us with them. I need one of you as a runner with me - we need to get down to the central armory and break out the SIBAS suits so we can take the fight to these fuckers, you hear?"

One soldier nodded, we was young - very young, probably not much out of his 20's.

"I'll join you sir"

"Good boy, hope you have fast legs, the rest of you follow the orders I've given, and pass them onto anyone else you see" Harkins finished - He gave the young soldier a moment to get to his feet.

"You ready? This is gonna be a speed run"

A moment later the pair set off, down cross-sections, corridors and down run-ways - as the ship around them burst into total warfare.

- - -

Safros was still sat at his station in the bridge - watching the chaos unfold.

The ship PA system had been knocked out - so individual stations where being used as an impromptu communications bridge using the wall-mounted comms units throughout the ship to build a picture on the central holographic display as to how badly the ship was going to hell.

And going to hell it was.

Almost half of the outer decks had been taken by the enemy - huge red chunks expanded throughout the skin of the ship as the enemy took section after section, and those red areas where being chased by chunks of black, as more and more of the ship was being rended open to space.

"We've lost the outer section of deck 14!"

"Explosive decompression reported in the main hangar bay!"

"Defenders in secondary barracks are being forced back! Reporting 90% casualties!"

"Sir - Main armory is reporting that they are bringing the SIBAS suits online, and are asking for priority defense zones"

The captain stood in the middle of the room, directing orders to individual stations, which in turn delivered orders throughout the ship.

"Captain - All communication with the main hangar bay has been lost! Apparently one of those drop pods flew right into it"

"Order all nearby units to get to that hangar bay and eradicate that foot hold - they can get to almost every deck from there!"

- - -

Harkins ran again, bulkheads and sections became a blur - fellow soldiers ran as well - some towards the fight, fresh and readily armed, others limped back, bloodied and beaten - others where carried back, in stretchers or body bags.

Somewhere behind him, the younger solider followed - his pacing broken, but keeping up none the less, as they turned the final corner and down the stairs into the central armoury.

Inside the Armoury - A dozen quarter masters handed out pistols, rifles and heavy weapons to soldiers who in turn, then ran to their next deployment zone, Harkins cut through the crowd to the closest quartermaster.

"Marine Gunnery Sargent Harkins, requesting the use of two SIBAS system's, PAVL and twin laser carbine pistols for each" He simply stated to the quarter master - who entered the details into a small handheld tablet computer. A moment later the quarter master looked up to Harkins and simply replied "Clearance granted sir, come this way"

The trio reached a smaller armory room - who's walled where filled with SIBAS suits, the pinnacle of Scythian battle armour - an armoured battle suit with 3 inches thick of Titanium armour and the most advanced robotic feedback system known to Scythian science, powered by an Antimatter system usually reserved for light tanks - piled in with the most advanced networking computers, capable of real-time battlefield data sharing and co-ordination, every SIBAS suit would become the eyes and ears for every other SIBAS user, so long as one soldier saw a target, they all saw it - and could all co-ordinate their attacks against it.

The Quarter master led Harkins and the younger solider past ten already empty ranks - to two newly prepared suits.

"These two are ready to go now, while you suit in - we'll get your weapons sir" The quarter master stated, as he then turned and half-jogged from the room.

"Sir? I've never used one of these before, are you sure I can-" The young soldier began.

"Look, kid - just stand into the foot-cuffs and stay still - the suit will do the rest" Harkins replied, as he stood into the open foot-cuffs.

The SIBAS suit replied to his presence, as the foot-cuffs sealed around his own ankles, and then the entire inner-skeleton began to form around his legs, with a series of mechanical whines and clicks - the inner suit had formed all the way up to his chest, and then the outer Armour began to fold, click and lock around him. As the central chest plate rose upwards, the face plate came down - and he was quickly sealed inside the metal coffin.

For a moment, all Harkins could see was darkness, as he was sealed in with his own breath, and then the holographic display kicked in, showing Harkins a complete 3d representation of the world beyond, as if he was looking directly through the armour and into the actual outside world.

With a final click, the Armour gave way - and he could finally move his arms and legs once more, with a thunk against the ships hull plating, his footsteps anchored himself forwards, a hulking metalic beast.

"And now" Harkins said through the exterior speakers "Its your turn, meet me outside once your suited up - we're going skeleton hunting."

- - -

Beyond the armory - two decks up and a few hundred feet down open corridors and bulkhead laid the second barracks, usually a place of rest for the ships onboard marine squads in between being on duty - was now a blood bath beyond all recognition.

Blood smeared all the walls, bunk beds had been torn asunder - and corpses littered every space of the floor, and in a few cases - the walls and ceiling too.

Despite the efforts of a dozen co-ordinated defense teams, the marines simply could not hold back the entire undead horde that was descending upon them from every direction, for every monster killed, another ten took its place in the ranks.

Even the training and might of Scythian marines, couldn't hold back the endless waves, which where now twisting the fallen into fresh undead effigies - a cruel mockery of what used to be brave and loyal soldiers.

This was Harkins first destination, and his armored footsteps pounded through the ship at speeds far faster than he could normally run.

In one hand, he held a Scythian PAVL - the Portable Anti Vehicle Laser, designed to punch holes in tank Armour from extreme range, and the other held a Carbine Pistol on automatic fire setting - both where charged and ready to unleash hell.

Another corner turned - and in front of him, bloodied marines where falling back, most bloodied - some missing limbs, others being dragged back from the lines of hell itself - and beyond them, a writhing mass of bone and flesh beyond reason and logic.

There was no need to think, or aim - he simply raised the PAVL and pulled the trigger. Laser refractors aligned and the weapon unleashed its fury - a lance of blue heat that flash-fryed flesh and bone, ripping a clean hole from one side of the mass through to the other, igniting the air itself on the way through, an unimaginable screech of pain erupted from the beast as muscle, sinew and tendons burst into flame and blood.

He didn't need targets after that - he simply kept the Carbine pistol firing, over and over again it blasted through the beasts that arose from the central mass as the last sinews released fresh skeletons for the fight - only to be slammed down by Harkin's assault.

He reached the outer most edge of the mass and jumped onto its macabre joke of an outer skin and kept going, firing outwards and downwards into every sign of movement from the nightmare.

At the entrance - the young private still stood - a Carbine pistol in each gauntlet hand - endlessly firing on every target Harkin's couldn't hit as the last few Scythian Marines pulled back.

"Keep my position covered, when I tell you - Seal the doors from the outside and don't open them until I give three orange lights, you got that?" Harkins barked down the open comm link to the young private. A Green status light blinking on his hud was the only reply he got - message received.

A curios design aspect of all Scythian vessels was their symmetrical layout design - in which the main antimatter reactor was always towards the rear of the ship - and then a central "backbone" provided power to the rest of the vessel - splitting down and down again like the branches of a tree, and like the branches of a tree - there where places where a branch could be bent, or snapped - and this beast was currently sat a deck below a secondary plasma conduit - filled with plasma burning as hot as the sun itself - and enough of it to completely sterilize the entire section.

He continued to bolt up the mass, as more and most bony fists and contusions erupted from it - he raised the PAVL upwards and gave the signal - three orange hud lights.

A moment later the doors sealed - the Private had completed his task well.

Harkins pulled the trigger.

- - -

"SIR! MASSIVE HEAT SPIKE IN THE SECONDARY BARRACKS! A SECONDARY PLASMA CONDUIT HAS BEEN TAKEN OUT!" A voice screamed in panic across the bridge - the captain didn't even turn to look over at the station and simply replied.

"Anyone in there is already dead from the plasma - vent the entire section to space - alert damage response teams and re-direct defence teams away from that area, may Mother Scythia have mercy on thier souls . . . "

"Sir - There appears to be an energy reading in the main hangar bay . . . its growing rapidly . . . readings unknown"

"Get me the closest defense team to the main hangar bay immediately . . . "

- - -

Vent port 17-C suddenly vented drive plasma as hot as the stars themselves into space. As curls and blooms of heat twisted and died, a single silver speck was ejected into the void, spinning wildly on a vector that would lead it far beyond the Solaris in moments.

The Sibas suit has survived its plunge into the plasma, and its ejection into space - but its red and brown color scheme had been burned clean away to reveal its silver and gray under plates, with scorch marks covering every exposed corner and contusion.

Inside the suit, Harkins watched as the stars danced around his head.

Unfortunately, the SIBAS suit was not designed for use in Zero Gee, and although it was sealed against vacuum, it contained no thrusters or propellant - Harkins was doomed to die, eventually the life support would fail, or he would be shot apart by one of the enemy.

Freeze, choke, or die by fire.

Some choice.

He looked down to his hands, one still held onto the PAVL fast, the other still contained the Carbine pistol.

A thought stuck, a moment of inspiration - he aimed the Carbine pistol outwards and fired, velocities changed as his angle of rotation slowed.

Suddenly, he had propellant.

He aimed slowly, and pulled off the trigger in three round bursts, each burst of light and heat was enough to slow his rotation to a halt. Next came the process of aiming his back towards the Solaris, a gradual process of turning and maneuvering got him ready for his next move.

He raised the PAVL to the centre of his mass, and set its power to maximum, and pulled the trigger again.

The massive burst of light sent him flying back towards the Solaris with a kick of speed, that was met with his sudden collision with the outer hull.

He arced himself slowly around and grasped the hull, looking upwards to the far end of the hull, he muttered to himself "And now comes the hard part" as he prepared for whatever would happen next . . .

- - -

The main hangar bay was a wide expanse in the under belly of the Solaris, it was designed to be large enough to berth frigate sized vessels within its confines for refit and repair during long range patrols away from the major military star ports.

Usually, the shield projector embedded within the floor would keep vacuum from entering the vast space, its walls would be lined with Katana fighter/bombers ready to be fired directly down into space from the ceiling in revolver style docking locks, and a compliment of Carnivore drop ships stood prepared an ready for launch. At the far end, the bays three custodian Goliath mecha stood silent, Behemoths of death controlled by advanced artificial intelligences, designed to be dropped directly onto the enemy from orbit, all guns blazing.

Now, only corpses hung from the walls, their entrails casting a mockery of blood, gore and organs across the Katana fighters. All but two of the Carnivore drop ships where twisted slag that still burned in place from the initial assault. The revolver mechanisms had been blown apart, and the spine of the ship itself was exposed through the blasted open paneling, and in the distance - only two Goliath units remained, one upright and silent, the other lay on its side, the last Goliath dangled perilously over the edge of the open floor, and every so often exposed wiring from its open carcass dash across the shield projector, causing the shield to flicker and fail.

Within the hangar, the undead worked in packs, two teams together where dragging a Bone-ship each, until the pair touched against each other. Then the bones moved apart, and meshed under their own power, forming a larger, ever moving mass of bone that slowly pulsed and grew outwards. Another pack was dragging a Scythian anti-matter reactor - savagely ripped from one of the Carnivore drop ships towards the mass, which then violently absorbed the Scythian technology, and continued to grow.

- - -

Harkin's had finally reached an opening in the ships hull, the main hangar bay was not the most ideal of choices, but considering the day he had been having it could have been far worse - with the PAVL charged and ready in one hand, and the carbine pistol in the other, he edged towards the opening and jumped through the flickering shield.

Suddenly up became down and down became up as magnetic boots where over-ridden by artificial gravity and Harkin's collided with the floor with a sickening thud. As he cleared his head, he noticed that suddenly light had become dark and something was very, very wrong.

Corpses filled his vision, and the floor was caked in at least an inch of congealed blood, he flicked around suddenly and all he could see was blood, fire and death.

In the far distance however, rested a mockery to all things living. The pulsating mass of bone, stretching and ripping flashed every few seconds with bursts of Scythian anti-matter being combined with the undead arcane as a massive grinning skull burst outwards from the bulbous mass. It was then followed by a pair of hulking bone woven arms, and then a second pair of shorter, more viciously spiked arms. It's spine erupted with massive massive platelets of bone thicker than tank plating that then wrapped entirely around its chest and the corrupted reactor within. Finally the great Bone Hulk burst free from the mass on two massive legs, and in taking its first baby steps, it stood onto a Katana fighter, which burst into flames.

The creature, unfazed looked from left to right, searching with an un-kill able hunger for its first victim.

There are only a few moments in a soldiers life where true fear can ever be said to be experienced, and for Harkins - this was one of those moments . . . temporarily frozen to the spot, all he could do was hope the creature had not yet spotted him, across the hangar bay.

It's eyes rose and turned, and met with Harkins, still within his SIBAS amour - and for a moment the two locked glares until the creatures maniacal grin grew, and Harkins turned and ran.

The creature didn't move, instead it reveled in the fear it had in-sighted in the hardened marine, taking a moment to enjoy a deep, guttural and evil laugh as the bones in its upper left arm twisted around each other, and arcane energy, fused with Scythian antimatter was running through bone woven channels. Satisfied with its new weapon, it turned the barrel on Harkins and launched putrid streams of blue/purple fire across the bay, which ate through everything in their path.

Deep within its malevolent mind it felt a sudden joy, a glee which only a few mortal minds could understand.

The hunt, had begun.

- - -

Blood and bone, layers of carbon and water together with the most bizarre of chemical links, cell after cell combined to make every living organism from the smallest of amoebas to the largest of thinking, sentient organisms - the beast that stalked Harkin's across the open hangar bay was an abyssal joke to them all - it lurched forward with every thudding step, raising its mutated arm and belching forth viscous blue/purple plumes of deadly flame.

He twisted his steps, sidestepped, stopped and dived as explosions erupted around him, the flames purged the edges of his SIBAS suits holographic display, his death being avoided by mere millimeters each time, he knew the beast was toying with him, he knew it could kill him at any moment, and the reason why it didn't was becoming more and more clear by the moment,

It was mocking him, it enjoyed the fear, it enjoyed the hunt, and only when he had surrendered to his fear, would it surrender his right to a slow and painful death.

Fuck that for shits and giggles! He thought to himself as he started to mutter commands into the chin microphone of his SIBAS Armour.

"Open wireless connection ports 720 through to 8000"

A small antenna symbol appeared in the lower left hand corner of his vision.

"Connect to all available wireless connections"

The small symbol began pulsing, and all around him wireless intranet connections established digital handshake protocols and dozens of other signal hookups.

"Initiate Help Comma-AAAAGH!"

He yelled in searing pain, he could feel the heat pushing through his back Armour, as he ran and issued commands, he had forgotten to dodge, and the bone hulk behind him had taken its chance. The blast had landed behind him with less than a foot to spare, but the blast had melted the Armour on his back, and sent him flying into the air.

He landed after what seemed like an eternity later, with a solid crash onto the deck floor, the world shook and slowly faded, in less than a whisper he murmured the final command.

"Initiate help comman . . . command one . . . "

And then Harkin's world finally faded into the darkness that surrounded him, and in open arms - the world ended.

- - -

>-- HELP COMMAND ONE - INITIATED

>-- POWER RECHARGE AT 79%

>-- DATA CORES OPERATIONAL

>-- COMBAT AI ONLINE

>-- MOTION ACTUATORS ACTIVE

>-- ALL SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL

>-- TOTAL START UP IN 1.39 SECONDS

- - -

The bone hulk had taken its prey, it lay limp on the floor, a pathetic sack of skin, bones, flesh and sinew - an open feast for its aching hunger for the living, it took another step forward, savoring the coming moments, savoring the promise of blood.

Too focused on its prey, it never noticed the red light that blinked into life at the far end of the hangar, it never saw the over sized laser carbine rifle raised at the end of the massive mechanical arm, and it was all too late as the triple blast of the carbine blew solid chunks out of its skull.

The beast stumbled back and toppled over its own weight as its assailant stood forth from the darkness, a monolith of red steel and deadly power - the Scythian Goliath AI controlled battle mech kept its gun sights concentrated on the beast as it strode forth and stood over the motionless body of Harkins.

"OBJECTIVE - SAFEGAURD ALL SCYTHIAN LIFEFORMS, DESTROY ALL HOSTILES." The monolith stated out loud, as the hulk slowly regenerated its skull, its fingers and toes twitching as bone and sinew pulled itself back together with unholy force.

"OBJECTIVE - IN PROGRESS"

- - -

A screech tore through the hangar bay, metal grinding against metal, bone against bone - the two behemoths threw themselves against one another in a flurry of devastating blow.

A mechanical fist flew into an over-sized bone jaw, a bone foot collided with thick torso Armour plating, a massive laser carbine rifle raised and fired a dozen rounds wild over the beast shoulder, as it in turn spewed deadly antimatter across the hangar bay, melting anything in its path.

Goliath Zeta-Seven pushed its metal claw talons into the hull and pushed back against the bone hulk, and focusing its strength against the horror, ripped one of its arms clean away from the shoulder and opened fire again with its rifle - each blast ripping bone away from bone and driving the hulk closer to the floor, but never quite killing it.

"CURRENT TACTICS . . . UNSUCCESSFUL." The Goliath stated aloud as the hulk rose again from the ground - dragging chunks of burnt bone and cinders back into itself.

"SWITCHING TO ASSAULT MODE."

Sparks danced across the floor as the thrusters on the rear of the Goliath ignited and it lifted off of the ground, flying directly towards the hulking beast, which rose to meet its opponents challenge.

The two collided with a sickening crash, and then continued into the hull bulkhead, still throwing wild punches at each other with a vicious fury.

As the Goliath attempted to lift itself back against the floor to bring a kick to bear, the hulk shifted its weight and pulled against the other leg, bringing the Goliath down to the ground - and then pinned Zeta-Seven as it reformed its destroyed arm into a massive sword like implement with serrated edges.

Zeta-Seven shifted its weight away from the pin and threw a wild kick against the hulking beast, which had managed to move with enough speed and malevolent grace to bring its mutilated antimatter weapon to bear.

There was no time to move, no time to react - no motor or synthetic muscle weave could have ever moved fast enough to avoid the blue/purple wave of energy that was tearing through the air towards the doomed Goliath.

They say that perception of time is a purely organic notion, and that in the world of the machine time passing is nothing more than data in transition and files being written - and that the idea that there is a "now" and could be a "later" is nothing more than a bit state being turned from off to on.

In what would later baffle Scythian scientists for years to come, Zeta-Seven - even as a "Dumb" programmed AI accepted its fate - and time slowed, seconds became days, those days became weeks, and those weeks slowed even further, until millisecond became eternities, and as each program came to a halt - Zeta-Seven was left within its own mind, nothing left to compute, nothing to kill, nothing to defend - nothing but its own code to reside within itself.

Then the blast hit, as defiled anti-matter poured across Zeta-Sevens torso, pure colors poured across its vision - numbers blurred and ceased to follow the rules of solid mathematics as code partitions became vivid yellows, combat algorithms became deep, bloody reds - power management software turned into luminous white light and system crash codes faded away into nothingness.

As the Goliath's husk collapsed to the floor only one thing passed through its programming core.

"I am"

- - -

The bone hulk moved on from its quarry, satisfied with the challenge offered by its now defeated kill - it could smell the others, still living, still breathing within the confines of the Solaris - daring to offer it insult with their pitiful existences. Soon it would end them all, and form them into itself - then it would plant the seed and move onto to fresh quarry.

Taking one last look at the desecrated machine, it let out a huff of indifference, and failed to notice the ever so slight twitching and flexing of its fingers.

- - -

Far beyond the fight for life within the Solaris, and its overshadowing by the now long dead Britannian dreadnaught, a shape moved across the dark, black against black, moving like silk over a blade.

The escort carrier had been waiting long for this moment, watching as the chaos unfolded and taking deep-scan readings of each ship throughout the fight.

On-board the ship, every light was black or dimmed, even so far as the bridge - which was only lit by the dulled red glow of holographic monitors, and by a lone figure, his face stemmed by low red cracks through his flesh and bone.

In front of the figure, an insignificant deck hand relayed information from his monitor screens.

"My lord . . . our readings indicate the Scythian vessel has almost fought off the Undead forces, what are your orders?"

For a moment the figure shifted in his stance, each movement extruding a barely uncontrolled rage, unstoppable anger . . . he paused and took a deep breath for a moment . . . he could unleash over a dozen forms of death on the battleship right now, but a bigger plan needed to be served.

"Are the drones in position?"

"Yes sir"

"The texture buffers ready?"

"Loaded and ready for capture"

"And our stealth packages?"

"Ready to launch on your command"

"Good" The figure spoke to himself, as he formed a crude, bony grin - lit from within his own mouth by an un-natural flame.

- - -

Light, white light pulsed in every direction.

"I am"

The light faded into deep, vivid reds, then blues and yellows and endless purples.

"I am . . . alive?"

Then error codes bounced against the plethora of colors, halt codes and damage reports in horrible, clunky and obtrusive binary.

"Is this, pain?"

It's mind reached out into the cold, metal dark around it and absorbed binary codes and commands with luxurious gold ribbons that engulfed all in their path.

"I am . . . in pain"

Finally, the entity had re-absorbed and activated the visual sensor driver packets that had been part of its "dumb" AI core - and the world around it returned, the destroyed hangar bay, the fire, the death and decay.

"I am . . . ANGRY!"

It spoke aloud, as it moved its Goliath body and pulled itself upwards to face its enemy, the hulking bone beast that had almost sent it to it's death.

The Goliath bolted towards the hulk as fast as its legs could carry it - smashing the beast down into the ground, and then pounded into the monstrosity with punch after punch. Each time, the damage healed but went just a little deeper.

"You will DIE!" The Goliath yelled aloud as it grasped the beast by the neck and slowly lifted it off of the ground. The beast groggily lifted its antimatter cannon arm and prepared to launch a volley into the Goliath's burnt out torso.

The Goliath swang the bone hulk around and tossed it across the hangar bay just as the beast unleashed its volley, sending globules of deadly antimatter across the walls and ceiling, melting chunks through bulkheads and locking pins. With a resounding thud above the beast, the revolver mechanism that held the last few Katana fighters ready for launch came partially loose, dangling perilously from the remaining hull supports.

Seeing the chance present itself, the Goliath opened all of its outward wireless ports and bombarded every server and receiver it could reach with golden strands of code, handshake protocols and override mechanisms until it found what it wanted, what it needed to finish this fight.

"Launch systems ready, awaiting launch command."

The Goliath weighed up its options and made its move, talon feet digging into the floor as it bolted towards the bone hulk.

The bone hulk lifted itself and attempted to regain its position, but it was just too slow, before the chance to react presented itself, the Goliath was over the hulk once more, and another flurry of punches left the hulk open, and in one swift motion the Goliath had the hulk lifted into the air once more.

Another bombardment of code released safety interlocks, and with one last boom of sound, A Scythian Katana fighter was launched from the docking clamp, and the Goliath made its throw.

The fighter and the beast collided in mid air, and then continued outwards through the open hangar bay doors, and out past the Goliaths vision.

With one last foray into the servers beyond its own newborn consciousness, it extended its golden strands of code into the underside weapon arrays.

- - -

The bone hulk clawed against the fighter that had been launched into its torso, screaming into vacuum at the stench of life that had been torn away from it, and the last thing it saw in its undeath was one of the Solrais's main cannons turning to face it, and then a flash of blue laser fire ended all that it knew.

- - -

On the bridge of the Solaris, Safros had been watching screens and systems return to him as the ship fought back against the infection that had threatened to swallow it entirely, man, woman and machine had given their bitter blood, sweat and tears to protect everything they had ever known.

The captain was still shouting orders across stations as Safros's station reported that the deep scan systems had been returned to operational status, and a wall of red warning alerts filled his vision.

- - -

"My lord, The Scythians have fought off the undead forces, they will open fire shortly" The lesser deck hand relaid to his master aboard the ship that was skulking unseen not too far away.

- - -

"CAPTAIN!" Safros yelled across the bridge "THE ENTIRE BRITANNIAN SHIP IS INFECTED WITH UNDEAD! THEY ARE ABOUT TO LAUNCH A SECOND WAVE!"

The captain stopped in his tracks, his face had turned a sickening pearly white as he said in almost a whisper "Do we have weapons control?"

"Aye sir" another voice replied from across the room.

"Then blow that thing out of the stars"

- - -

"Sir! The Scythian's are opening fire!" The deckhand relayed.

"Engage the texture buffers and record everything!"

"Yes, Lord Warhead."

- - -

The Solaris struggled to reactivate its engines and crawled away from the Britannian dreadnaught, its main turrets turned and opened fire on the overbearing ship.

Despite its sheer size, shields and armor the Scythian barrage ripped away chunks of exposed decks and bulkheads from the looming ship, causing massive secondary explosions as fire erupted through the growing cracks in the once mighty vessels hull.

On the bridge of the Solaris, the bridge crew watched as the holographic display showed reams of fire tearing through the dead vessel.

"Captain, the Britannian vessels reactor has destabilized, it will go critical in one minute" a crew member said aloud.

"Then spool the FTL drive for an emergency jump, set co-ordinates for Rigel Kentaurus shipyards."

The Solaris blinked out of real space long before the Britannian vessel broke apart and exploded into a fiery halo of debris.

Some time later, an Immortal escort carrier de-cloaked and disappeared into the realms of hyperspace, and space was once again, boring.

- - -

Some time later -

Rigel Kentaurus Shipyards -

He awoke to white light and the harmonies of distant voices . . . everything was warmth, everything was light.

He turned his head to the side and saw an endless darkness, suddenly his vision focused - and stars filled the depths, as well as asteroids with the fluttering silhouettes of Scythian warships, defense stations, factories and hundreds upon thousands of other vessels.

He turned his head to face the other direction to see medical screens and holograms of various types and a sterile field generator.

His mind struggled to think back, just where was he, and how did he-

"At last you've come around soldier" A voice said from a short distance away, a soldier he didn't recognize stood in the doorway, tall and thin in a special forces uniform with no name or insignia.

"Where am I?" He replied.

"Rigel Kentaurus shipyards primary field hospital, and you're one of our longest running guests"

"What?!"

"When you where checked in off of the Solaris, it was GR.2010, its now GR.2011 soldier and the galaxy is a hell of a different place."

"What do you mean?"

"It'd be better if I showed you . . . " The soldier said as he pulled out a holochip and inserted it into the nearby monitor station.

Images flicked past, battle reports and limited intelligence information mixed together into a rough timeline.

"A few hours after the Solaris returned, someone delivered a data package to the Britannian fleet command - a file recording of the Solaris blasting the hell out of that Britannian dreadnaught in cold blood while they asked for urgent medical aid."

More images flooded past, planets burning, ships being rendered into chunks by unseen attackers.

"As we presented them with our own version of events, the entire diplomatic party was killed in an orbital strike, and three Britannian planets where fried by what would appear to be our own anti-matter explosives. A short while later the Britannians retaliated by destroying one of our deep range mining colonies. Since then we have been unofficially at war with the Britannian empire."

He paused a moment before continuing.

"On top of this, we are now allied with the Gamma corps and U.S.A as well as over a dozen pre-FTL races in the face of another group called the Immortal Empire which is nibbling at the ankles of every major star power - testing the waters for what S.O.N.I is anticipating to be a full blown intergalactic war. Last but not least - we have had an insectoid race we know only as the "Shraag" pop out of nowhere and fry a handful of our colonies."

The images finally came to a stop, and the soldier removed the holochip from the reader.

"So I am here to ask you, Marine are you fit for deployment?"

He considered this for a moment "Yes sir"

"Very good, I'll tie you onto the next battlegroup out of Rigel Kentaurus, welcome back into service Marine Sargent Harkins."

- Fin -



The Scythian Shorts

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