"I'm afraid not sir." Frank replied to Vortag's question. "Now, may I head off back to my sector, I was about to break into a slaver pen and if we wait any longer they may take the chance and attempt to escape."
Trace maintained his bit of not speaking, choosing to simply shake his head no. Like any other non-warrior profession, knowledge of hacking, even computers aside from a ship's controls, was frowned upon as being silly and weak. He instead looked at Vortag. Like the Sicariuns, the Kriken empire had been at war with the Vortags years and years ago. However, unlike most civilizations, Krikens respected their opponents. Indeed, the stronger you were, the more a Kriken was likely to give you the time of day. The fact that they had never been able to take the Vortag homeworld meant that the Krikens respected the brutish people immensely. Not enough to equal them to one of their own, but the next best thing. The Sicariuns weren't quite as high standing in Trace's mind, but not scum either. All in all, not a bad crew...the humans were an anomaly. The Krikens had never fought them (seeing as they had turned peaceful before Earth was discovered) so they couldn't rank them in their war systems. Trace wasn't sure what to make of them...
Fingers curled about the handle of his knife as the Vortag seemingly proceeded to insult him, the Sicariun’s were mainly tribal and with limited technology at their disposal, it was hard to develop computers whilst you were being chased by something intent on eating you. However although they were already naturally gifted in the arts of infiltration and reconnaissance the PCC had saw fit to train the Sicariun recruits received in certain fields in which they were lacking. "So the Vortag ox is defeated by a door....how fitting" Jacquen sneered with contempt as he strode past drawing the long dagger from its sheath. Giving the access panel a quick cursory glance Jacquen thrust the blade of his knife between it and the wall and began to lever it out exposing the wires and circuit boards behind. The PCC had given up trying to teach the Sicariun’s hacking skills, the concept of computers so alien to them; however they had managed with some success to train them to by-pass most things through hot wiring it. With the panel finally removed from the wall Jacquen quickly began cutting and splicing the wiring within tossing an entire PCB onto the floor in the process. Suddenly there was a shower of sparks, a flickering of lights and a stream of Sicariun swear words as the large blast doors slowly began to open.
Growling low in his throat, resisting the urge to bare his great blunt teeth. Vortag remembered at time when he would use his teeth to chomp through light Sicariun armor, but that was centuries ago. Vortag were officially friendly with the bug eyed freaks now, the sergeant had to remember that, as Jacquen pried the access panel from the wall and fiddled with the wires it revealed.
Striding away from the Sicariun, Vortag just grunted at everyone, the implied order made perfectly clear as he reached around and pulled the tremendous Vortag Shotgun from where it rode at the small of his back. Checking that the weapon's thermal clip was still flush inside the shotgun, Vortag grunted again and motioned with his tremendous shovel shaped head for all those in attendance to stack up behind him.
Lifting The Rampart from where it sat against the wall, Jack looped the machine gun's sling around his uninjured shoulder and snugged it against his body.
The Vortag was to take point. Even naked, the scales that covered Vortag's body were so strong that they could deflect most conventional small arms fire without even hurting him, but clad as he was in high tech armor, nothing short of a rocket launcher could take the Vortag down. Everyone else was to stack up behind him, and use his tremendous weight as a shield against any hostiles that might be behind the pair of double doors.
The massive reinforced doors slid ponderously open. The light from the room they stood in filtered into the one revealed by the opened doors. "Hurmph" Vortag groaned as he stepped across the threshold "no hostiles."
The fireteam stood in a bare room, but for the bank of flickering monitors that sat posed in the far corner of the room. Free Standing Displays endlessly cycled data undecipherable to any but the tech that would have been sitting in front of them. The tech was long gone though, the chair he would sit in tipped over, as if he had left in a hurry. Holstering his weapon, Vortag walked to the control panel and stared incredulously at it, until reaching out a finger and waving it over one of the displays.
The room outside went dark and the fireteam suddenly found themselves in darkness only relieved by the glare thrown off by the Free Standing Displays. Vortag was about to move his finger back over the display to try and turn the lights back on, when track lighting outlining the room they were in kicked in and bathed the room in cool blue light. That was when the fireteam looked down and noticed that the floor in this room was different. When someone took a step it rang hollow, as if stepping upon a strong piece of glass suspended in empty space. It even looked like opaque glass.
"This is good," Vortag mumbled loud enough for the team to hear, as he ran his finger across another display. This time the very ground they stood on began to make a low humming sound. For a long moment nothing more happened, until the floor suddenly flashed a blue color to match the track lighting.
A synthesized female voice over a speaker placed atop the console announced "Playing Data Log One." Just as a pair of holographic figures came to life in the middle of the room. One was a human, wearing the familiar tinted armor of the Slavers the PCC crew had slaughtered to get here. The other was an alien of some kind, dressed in heavy plate armor that was very familiar to the crew of ODS 3, it was the same style armor as they wore, painted a deep red and missing the "ODS 3" that was emblazoned over the back of the armor just between a human's shoulder blades.
The alien had a set of spikes that extended from his bare head and blasted backwards off his skull, like a human with a blast back hairstyle. A pair of dark black eyes were set deep into his face which was vaguely human but for the pair of nostril holes punched in the very middle and the spike like appendages that encircled his head around the chin.
"I know who that is." Vortag announced to the crew "That's Hakron Adaris. Big Collective Hero. The Collective gave him Vanguard status when he single handedly killed a slaver ship in deep space. The story goes that he rammed his own vessel so hard against the Slavers that he sheered off their FTL engines and they couldn't flee."
Hakron took a step closer to the man in the red armor "Report, Jacob."
"Yes, sir!" The human went rigid, fear was evidenced in his eyes and upon his brow, where sweat instantly began to collect. "You ordered us to hunt around this system. It goes well, passenger ships regularly come through. We let a few go, take others, so far we've taken around 2,000 from each of the three ships we've waylaid."
"Good." Adaris commented in between Jacob's sentences.
"The credits are going into your accounts on Nova. Safe from Collective Taxes." Jacob blurted "Any other orders, sir?"
"No, Jacob. Continue operations. Keep me informed." Hakron turned away from the sweating human, who let out a sigh of relief and mopped his brow with a wadded up piece of cloth.
The hologram faded to nothing, the normal lighting returning to the room as they disappeared. Vortag looked around at the crew of ODS 3, a shocked look in his eyes, as he enlarged the logs he'd chosen the hologram from, there were ten entries, and each of them were status reports, just like the one they'd just seen.
"Seems like Vanguard Adaris isn't what he claims to be." Vortag commented, as he brought his EC up "Everyone, come here, we're going to load this data onto our own ECs in case the backup that kept this system alive fails before we can extract these files."
"Yes sir!" Tom replied, walking up to the Free Standing Display, almost instantly his EC entered the computer system and began to download the holofiles.
after a few minutes the download was complete and Tom stepped back from the FSD.
Rolf shook his head. He didn't know anything about hacking. He was a German and a soldier. That myth about Germans being good hackers came from a movie where an Anglo played a German. There was no truth at all about it. Luckily, Jacquen knew how to splice into electronic door panels, and a few minutes later, had it unlocked. Gunny Vortag ordered the group to get behind him as they entered the room. Though Rolf was his superior, and Gunny Vortag had no right to order him around, Rolf knew that he was being smart about this, and didn't say anything about it. With a slight reluctance, Rolf put out his pipe, put it back in its pouch, and drew his Messer and pistol.
Gunny Vortag's hurmph revealed that there were no slavers in the room. Rolf entered and put his weapons away, and got ready to prepare his pipe again, when the room went dark. It wasn't until blue light came out of the edges of the room that he could see Gunny Vortag at the FSD, controlling the light. It was then that he heard people's footsteps echoing off the floor. A look at said floor revealed it to be opaque glass, the kind used in holographic rooms. The floor lit up the same blue as the edges, and the computer announced that log one was playing. A second later, two figures popped up in the middle of the room. One was an unknown human, but the other, he was known. Vanguard Hakron Adaris, single most revered and respected hero in the Collective. Rolf smiled a bit hearing Gunny Vortag tell a story about Adaris. Reality quickly set in though, and Rolf realized that Adaris wasn't here to defeat slavers. Rolf ordered his EC to record what he was seeing. After the recording was through, Gunny Vortag told everyone to load all the data logs onto their ECs. Again, Rolf wasn't going to argue about being ordered by somebody lower in rank. It was what he would have said as well. Rolf told his EC to form a link with the computer and download the files. Luckily it wasn't password protected. "Alright I have them," Rolf announced, after they had all been stored on his EC. "We better get this to the Captain. I can't believe Adaris is a slaver. That can't be right."
"I would have expected this of a human." Jack said under his breath, as he accessed his EC and formed a link between it and the console. The file downloaded almost immediately and Ral was going to replay it. Then he realized that he would have to access his memories to do so, and that would mean leafing through the numerous pictures and videos he carried there. He gulped hard on the lump that rose in his throat, as he banished the display from his arm.
Vortag punched his open hand "Good, good, very good!" he laughed "More action, more fighting!"
Vanguards were beings elected by The Collective -- beings that embodied the best in sapient life. Justice, Care, Duty, Honor, Vanguards were an authority unto themselves. Once elected they answered only to The Collective and to themselves -- complete authority. They usually had very personal quests that guided their every move, but after that task is complete Vanguards were sometimes left without the guidance they previously had. Apparently Hakron Adaris had never worried too much about fighting slavers. This called into question everything he'd ever said. Did he really cripple that slaver ship? Was it all an elaborate hoax to grant a slaver Vanguard status? Or did he just succumb to the corruption that haunts Sapient life everywhere they go?
"We better get this to the Captain. I can't believe Adaris is a slaver. That can't be right."
"Yes sir." Vortag nodded his head and looked at the crew "Hurry up before I turn you into pulp and brush my teeth with you!" he roared.
Trace downloaded the content on to his EC as requested. It didn't really matter to him what one human was doing. He was going to review the files at his own leisure to check to see if there was anything his empire could benefit from, but at the moment, nothing was too important. The Vortag threatened the crew to get moving on the downloads. Trace was done though, so he simply returned to his former position, waiting for the others.
"Yes sir!" Tom replied, saluting at the Vortag, moving quickly, he jogged out of the room and down the corridors of the building.
He'd seen a lot during his years in the service...but he was still, and would always be, fearful of Vortag...there was something about him that made grunts like Tom immedietly follow his orders without question.
Frank got all the data on-to his EC having followed Vortag down the hall-way and then Vortag did his angry thing. Frank, still frustrated at not getting a reply to his question asked again. "Sir, Please may I take some men with me and head back to the north-east sector. I was about to break in-to what I thought was a slaver pen."
The human asked Vortag a question. Human voices had always annoyed him, they were all so high and clear, no depth, no rasp to them at all -- completely devoid of character. His mind elsewhere, Vortag dismissed Frank with a snort "Go on then." Vortag was about to reach out and tap the display again, maybe play another log, when the ground violently shook and a cacophonous explosion rocked the entire building. The room suddenly went dark, the console that had been running on an emergency generator finally gave up and died. All the data stored there destroyed as a built-in safeguard came crashing down, completely eradicating any trace that they had ever existed.
Someone must have painted another target with their EC -- the way Vortag had done earlier, and the resulting concussion knocked the entire compound into complete darkness. As Jack reached to the forefront of The Rampart and flipped on the built-in flashlight, Vortag smashed his huge fists down onto the console in front of him and let out a great bellow that sent gobbets of saliva flying against the opposite wall. "THOSE HUMPLESS COWARDS! WHAT FLAT TOOTHED MOUTH BREATHER CALLED IN A DANGER CLOSE AIRSTRIKE!?!" Vortag yelled at no one in particular.
"Something wrong, Sergeant?" Jack asked, shining his light around the room, to locate his allies.
"Yes, there is." Vortag glanced over to Frank's back, as he strode from the room "BELAY THAT LAST ORDER, JEFFERSON." Vortag slammed his fists down onto the console again, this time there was a mighty crack, as the very stone that protected the computer's hardware was split in two by the ferocious blow "With this console dead we are the only ones with the data. We all have to get back to the drop ship right now, otherwise we may lose the intel completely."
Vortag reached around his backside and pulled up the massive shotgun he carried, ejecting a thermal clip from the weapon and slamming a new one into the empty chamber. Purposefully not giving the order to his commanding officer, Vortag ordered the servicemen "Mount up. We're leaving right now!"
Aboard The Void's Warden
Commander Wentworth scowled deeply at the console that fed him battlefield data. ODS 1 and 2 had secured their respective buildings, ODS 3 had as well, but while the first two shuttles were boarding with nothing more than any loot they could carry out in their bags, the crew of ODS 3 had found valuable intel -- Wentworth knew this by an unnoticeable bug placed in a certain alien-lover's armor.
"Serviceman!" Wentworth called to a passing tech "Patch me through to Sergeant Vortag, Lieutenant Helmfrid's and Serviceman Carlyle's ECs." Wentworth didn't want to upset the entire crew of ODS 3 with the invasive command, but he felt it was neccesary.
"Yes, sir!" The tech said, saluting with an eagerness that belied his joy at receiving his commander's personal attention. "Right away sir." he said as he went to a nearby console and began working a free standing display furiously with both hands.
A few moments later, the tech came back to Wentworth's side, holding a datapad in his hand. Passing the pad to his Commander, the tech saluted again "You can speak to them through your console, sir. This pad holds all the information on their respective EC's." The tech faltered a moment, as he gave the pad over "That is Serviceman Carlyle's personal data, sir. Simply change the EC's with voice commands."
A look of utter disgust crossed his face, as he rifled through the memory streams. Wentworth's mouth came down at each end in a frown strong enough to break glass "I expected better of Carlyle." he muttered to himself "He seemed so unhappy in the PCC." After flipping through some of the memories from years earlier, Wentworth wanted nothing more than to pull over a trash bin and vomit into it. "Disgraceful, a human and a quarian." Wentworth shook his head before accessing the downloaded files of Carlyle's EC. A few of the downloads caught his eye, there, the second to last download was mandatory reading for any Collective Soldier who had lost a spouse 'You Are Not Alone.' Wentworth had read that same ebook when his wife passed away ten years ago, his scowl deepened.
Then he hit upon the most recent download, a string of numbers and letters patched together. Wentworth accessed the files and his scowl immediately disappeared "My God." he said in a dead voice, as the first of the Data Logs played. As soon as it was finished, he accessed The Sergeant and Lieutenant's EC's and saw the same files. A lump rose in his throat, as he watched all ten logs in succession. "Patch me through to the ODS 3 crew, serviceman!" as the tech did so he pulled a microphone to his mouth and spoke to all those aboard ODS 3 "This is Commander Wentworth. Return to the ship immediately, that intel you found is too valuable to risk losing. Disengage and return immediately." Wentworth hadn't taken the time to make up an excuse, he was their commanding officer and they couldn't object to his probing their EC's for information he deemed necessary.
"We'll be heading back to Eroes Prime soon, if I'm not mistaken." he said to himself after shutting his microphone off. This will mean promotion...maybe even my own fleet. Commander Wentworth smiled at the data pad in his hands, as it casually scrolled the most meaningful, private and powerful memories the three soldiers had.
Frank heard the go ahead and was immensely relived however then the was that close air-strike and he thought to him-self "Who pulls an air-strike down right near where your allies are?!" He heard Vortag's commands and decided that Vortag was right and although he didn't want the slaver's to get away with some slaves they had been taught that they couldn't save everyone and in this case they truly could not. When Vortag shouted to move out Frank replied "SIR! WE HAVE TO RUN! I BELIEVE THAT THE AIR-STRIKE WEAKENED THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE BUILDING AND IT IS COLLAPSING AROUND US! WE HAVE TO RUN NOW!"
Rolf had started to head back to ODS 3, sending a message to Sublieutenant Davidson to take over the platoon. Just as he was exiting the door, the building shook violently, nearly knocking Rolf down to his feet. The lights flickered and ten went out as the generator powering the room had failed. Rolf flipped the visor down on his helmet and ordered his EC to turn on active night vision. A small light built into the helmet sent out infrared rays that were collected by a thin film on the visor and amplified to create a black and white image of the surroundings. There was a massive boom that came from within the room, and Rolf turned around to see a light coming from Jack's weapon, and hear Gunny Vortag yelling about a close air strike. Gunny Vortag ordered Frank Jefferson to return, then slammed down on the computer, destroying it. Gunny Vortag then announced that they were the only ones to have the information from the computer. After loading a new magazine into his oversized shotgun, Gunny Vortag ordered the other enlisted in the room to ODS 3. Rolf relayed that order to the rest of his platoon, and started to head to ODS 3.
As he stepped outside, Rolf ordered his EC to stop active infrared and to start playing rain cancellation noise. In the distance, Rolf could see ODS 2 taking off, and the last few soldiers from ODS 1 boarding their vessel. One of the soldiers had dropped something, and was bending down to pick it up. Rolf thought about what it might be, when a peculiar glint caught his eye. It was lying a few feet from a fallen slaver, and when Rolf bent down to pick it up, he knew exactly what it was. It was a key, with the pressed image of a circle divided into four quadrants on the top of it. The top left and bottom right had horizontal lines. Rolf had a similar key back home. He put the key in a pouch, and was about to look through the slaver for any papers related to the key when a message came in from the Void Warden. It was Commander Wentworth, ordering ODS 3 to come back to the base ship because of the extremely valuable information they had found. Rolf ran to the open back of ODS 3 and climbed in, ordering his EC to stop playing rain cancelling noise. Rolf didn't wonder how Commander Wentworth knew the files were on the ECs. Instead, he set his EC to play some music from an old German band called Panikorchester.
Tom received Vortag's order and immediately obeyed, running through the buildings corridors as the ground shook slightly, reeling from the afternath of the airstrike.
a few seconds later he received Commander Wentworth's order.
reaching the doorway, Tom stepped outside, he could see troops from ODS-1 and ODS-2 loading up, he ordered his EC to cease all combat functions as he dashed across the damp ground, the rain pattering onto the outside of his armour.
he ran up the boarding ramp and sat down on the hard metal benches bolted onto the interior.
slinging his assault rifle onto his back, Tom took off his helmet and placed it next to him.
His face full of exhaustion, he stared into the empty visor of a dead PCC trooper that had been placed on the opposite bench, in the olden days they used to put sheets over the bodies, they didn't bother with that now, nowadays troops just let their EC cancel out the image from their sight.
Trace felt as though Vortag didn't need to threaten everyone with pain if they didn't get back to the ship, but he understood why it was so critical to return. He returned to the triskelion form, and scuttled all the way back to the ship. He boarded, returned to normal, and took the seat he had been in on the way here. There were a couple others back by now, having been not quite as far into the facility as he'd been. he ignored them though, instead reflecting on what he could have been more efficient on...something he did after every mission. One could only improve oneself if one could see what had to be improved. He noticed that Jacquen entered the ship shortly after he did...clearly speed was a gift his race had as well. Another thing to take note of.
Frank exited the building as it began to collapse around them. He ran onto the ship and slid into his seat. "Well that certainly was exiting" he said with a smile. Then seeing the dead body of the PCC trooper he looked at the pilot and asked "How many did we loose?"
As the building slowly crumbled around them, Vortag strode towards the door with all the calm dignity of a visiting diplomat. Jack followed in the wake of the huge strides Vortag made, the human searching the area behind them for any targets -- paranoid that a few slavers that might have hid during the crescendo of the fighting would now be wanting to leave, but no targets presented themselves, just knocked over chairs, tables and scattered playing cards. Jack was thankful for the distraction the Adaris Files offered, his mind was fixed on the files - and all the ramifications of them - and that helped to fight off the chilling numbness.
It was still raining when the pair left the building -- it always was on this planet. Their boots sunk into mud deep enough to swim through, their armor was immediately soaked and the rain ran between armor and skin in the few places it didn't completely protect -- like the joint of arm and elbow.
Jack did not see it, but he heard the pained cry and plea for help. Ahead of him, Vortag racked the action on his shotgun with one hand, before grasping the grip with the other and pointing it right into the wounded slaver's cracked and battered chest plate. He never saw it, but Jack heard the shotgun roar one last time and heard the slaver's final screams - even over the monstrous boom of the menacing firearm - and he also saw what was left in it's wake. A slaver that had taken multiple bullet impacts to the front of his armor had been crawling away from the battle, pulling himself through the muck despite life threatening injuries that would have put a weaker or less determined man down for the count. The front of the man's armor was just sheared from his body, like a can opener had ripped through a man-sized can of baked beans -- and that's almost what the steaming blood and pulsating organs opened to the rain looked like. Vortag didn't have time to take prisoners -- that wasn't his people's way.
As Jack and Vortag neared, the shuttle pilot began the final preparation for take off. He madly worked the pair of free standing displays upon the hovercraft's dashboard as the pair slogged towards them. The craft lifted a few inches off the ground and sat there for a long moment, as the engines finally kicked in and powered the drop ship's thrusters and the pilot gently pulled up on the controls.
ODS 3 lurched violently to the side as Vortag climbed in, his massive frame upsetting the craft's balance momentarily. He shook the rain from his armor, like a dog after having swam in a pool as soon as he was inside, splattering a few of the surrounding crewman -- not that any of them noticed, as every single being aboard that craft was soaking wet. Vortag stomped up to the cockpit and stepped inside as Jack turned from the now collapsed building and pulled himself on board.
Too tired to care where he sat, Jack just sank into the nearest seat and finally let go of The Rampart, letting it lean against the side of his leg as he pinched the bridge of his nose to ward off the drowsiness that came upon him the moment they were safe -- combat tired even the strongest humans out and Jack was not in the best of mental health to begin with. He banged three times in quick succession on the door to the cockpit to let the pilot know that everyone was in.
ODS 3 pulled itself from the mud and grime as easily as a knife through hot butter. It wavered a moment as the forward engines powered on, before it shot off into the sky behind it's two siblings -- headed home.
With the battle clarity quickly fading, Jack had to put his mind on other things, focus on his work to stop himself from going numb again, or worse.
Aboard the Void's Warden
"Councilor," Commander Wentworth stood in the comm room, looking into a display. On the display, a distinguished looking man with a hooked nose and graying strands of hair that were beginning to retreat from his hairline looked at Wentworth. He stood with his hands behind his back and looked at the Commander with a mixture of hope and dread, on one hand he hoped Operation: Saving Grace was a success, and on the other it was a harsh irony to hope that people arein slavery so you can rescue them. "We've recovered some" Commander Wentworth paused as he tried to put the right words to the events, a hand strayed up to the side of his face and he scratched the stubble that remained there unconsciously "damning data."
Councilor Kevin Fowler looked right into the Commander's eyes through the video connection "What kind of data do you mean, Commander?" Councilor Kevin Fowler was the oldest and most respected of humanities representatives in The Collective, harsh but fair, the man was a staunch humanist, fighting tirelessly to try and put humanity on top of the other Collective races. Willing to do anything it took to cement humanity's place in the galaxy, Fowler was a man to both respect and fear -- despite his age and deteriorating health. He personally owned an army cold hearted mercenaries who did his work for him, hidden among the various classes, work spaces and branches of Eroes Prime.
"This data is clear evidence that Collective Vanguard Adaris is not just allowing, but personally profiting from slave trades in outlying space." Wentworth rasped, as he placed a hand upon the desk he stood before "If this information ever got out, it could be politically harmful to the other races."
"And make a power vacuum from those ousted who had knowledge. Forward me the data." Fowler commanded, and a moment later a Tight Beam Communication arrived at his terminal, with all of the data recovered from the collapsed remnants of Building 3. The Councilor watched all them before turning back to face Commander Wentworth - a huge smile on his face - "This is the best news I've received all day. When the men who gathered this information arrive tell them they have helped their race innumerably this day."
The skipper of the Void's Warden went white as a sheet, as he realized the Councilor was unaware of the Collective Planetary Combat Command's integration program.
He turned another shade paler when the Councilor spoke again "Where is this data stored, Commander? I will send a team to officially recover it immediately."
Wentworth stammered out a few incoherent lines before setting his jaw and taking a deep, steadying breath. "The building and terminal was rigged to go down after unauthorized access, Councilor the crew barely made it out on time."
"You might not know it, Councilor, but the Void's Warden is a test subject." Wentworth began, if there was any blood left in his face he might have turned red with embarrassment, but as it is he just looked down to his shoes and closed his eyes "Mixed crews, Councilor. Those men who recovered the data include a Vortag, Kriken, Sicariun and a small group of humans who aren't much better."
Councilor Fowler got a pained expression in his eyes and steepled his hands in front of his face as the mental gears that kept him in power for so long churned at a maddening speed. He drummed his fingertips together for what seemed like an eternity, before nodding to himself and looking back to Wentworth "Humanity's grasp of power in the Galaxy is limited, Commander. Do you want to help your entire race?"
Councilor Fowler inclined his head in respect to Wentworth "Then here's what you must do."
"How many did we loose?" Frank asked the pilot, as he rolled the cockpit doors open.
Indeed, the sight of the dead man sitting in the seat, his head bent backwards on his neck at an unnatural angle had been unnerving to everyone. His mouth was agape in his final cry of fear and pain and his eyes still remained open.
The pilot throttled ODS 3 into formation with the other two drop ships and linked the drop ship with the navigation units aboard ODS 1 and 2 before replying "Too many," he called back into the craft's belly "we only lost him. ODS 1 and 2 both lost four crew. They had the worst of the fighting, their jobs were to make sure you guys survived to get into Building 3. I hope whatever you found in there was worth the cost. There will be lots of crying widows this day, when they get the news Tight Beamed to them."
That last sentence struck Jack off guard. He had been harshly and clinically examining the battle and it's results -- labeling it an overall success. Data recovered, slavers shut down, buildings demolished, but mentioning the price of such a thing pulled Jack's mind out of the battle, startled him from the drowsy cloud he'd been hiding in. He berathed in deeply and sat forward in his seat, tearing the helmet off his head and sitting it on the floor -- letting it roll away. Jack put his head in his hands and tried to hide the pained expression on his face behind his hands, as the Orbital Drop Ships made their way home.
(OOC: If it seems I'm meta-gaming that's not exactly true, I would know that Adaris would be powerful and possibly want revenge and that all the councilers would want more power and that quite a lot of them would do anything to get. Considering that Franks father had his own son sent off to the army where he never spoke to him again and only helped as a mysterious benefactor until Frank turned 18 Frank would realise what politicians were willing to do.)
Frank sighed as he heard the new from the Pilot. He hated it when men died. "Well at least they died for a good reason." he replied back up to the pilot. He stood up and walked up into the cockpit of the ship and he swung himself into the spare seat. "We discovered some important data that can help a lot." Then he had a thought. He swung himself back down into the hold. "Guys. I just had a thought. If Adaris discovers it was us who found out his dirty secret he may come looking for revenge. And also if the Void Warden Tight Beams the news back to the PCC then Adaris could see the file has been discovered as it would remain in the PCC official Beam archives which he can access. If I were you, and I know that I certainly will, I would be watching your back right now. Also the balance of power is very delicate at the moment, whoever releases this discovery will take control of a lot of power and public interest. He will gain the power as a reward. So that way if a council member discovers this he may want to try and steal the info and pretend that he made the discovery first. I say we call the PCC council as soon as we get back to our ship and we tell them everything."
Rolf had nearly fallen asleep, when he was jolted wide awake by ODS 3 lurching violently. The engines were running, and Rolf thought they had been hit by a stray slaver wielding a Strela. A second later, the ship righted itself, none of the crew was getting to general quarters, the back door was still open, and Gunny Vortag appeared as if he had just gotten on helped explain to Rolf what had really happened. Since he was awake now, Rolf decided to finish off the tobacco left in his pipe. As he lit his pipe, Jack, the same guy sitting across from him when they headed to this battle knocked on the door leading to the cockpit, and ODS 3 took off a few moments later.
A few minutes later, Frank had gone up to the cockpit, to ask their casualties. Looking back over the hold of ODS 3, Rolf saw the body of a soldier from another platoon, unceremoniously slouched over a few seats. Rolf sighed, got up, set his helmet down, and walked over to the body. He closed the mouth and eyes, put a couple of coins over the eyes, and folded the arms over the chest. Something bumped into his leg, and Rolf looked to notice it was a helmet. A quick inspection revealed it to be Jack's. Rolf walked over, and set the helmet down next to Jack, who appeared to be mourning. Rolf sat down next to him, and spoke. "I understand how you feel," Rolf said to him. "The battle today cost many lives. We lost nine soldiers today, compared to countless enemy slavers. History will say that we had a great victory, but historians are not soldiers. We have to bury our comrades and tell their families and friends that they are no longer with us. But understand that they died for what they believed in, they knew this day might come. Their families and friends knew it, and though we are all mourning, we must also be glad for the dead, for they are now among the ranks of the Einherjar. As the ancients said, memento mori. Be glad they died fighting for what they believed in, and have been awarded justly for their service."
He remembered that phrase well. Remember your mortality. Jack looked down to his helmet, which sat on the seat beside him, the visor staring up at him, as if to ask why he had dropped it to the ground. Gulping hard to stop a lump rising in his throat, Jack reached over and turned the helmet around so the visor wasn't looking at him imploringly.
Memento Mori. He had first learned the phrase in basic military training. It was almost a rallying cry among the humans, who lived such short lives when compared to the other races in the galaxy. His eyes clouding over, Jack thought of the great palisades and rolling hills of the planet he had trained on, the chanting of his comrades as they were broken down and then rebuilt to be soldiers. Unflinching, unfeeling soldiers of the Human Collective. Memento Mori, Memento Mori, Memento Mori, he and his fellows would chant as they were forced to run in tandem, holding a tremendous log over their heads. The cries of pain and grunts of determination all forming around those two words. Pride for who they were.
The words also brought back the times when they weren't motivational, but used as a mantra to block out the memories. The first two weeks after that last hospital visit blurred together for Jack into a haze of anguish and anger, red hot anger, hatred even. That was the time when he used the words to try and remind himself that everyone dies, that it was natural, that her passing was life coming full circle. It never worked. Sometimes he would find himself chanting those words under his breath on the particularly difficult days -- which even a year later was every day. Each day seemed harder than the last and only the combat clarity banished the bone deep pain, or kept the numb feeling from enveloping him.
Jack knew not what to say to his commanding officer. His words hadn't helped. Looking up at his commanding officer, Jack tried to form words around his feelings - something he'd never done before - but failed miserably, finally just blurting it out "I'm not mourning for them."
Inside the cockpit, the pilot throttled down on ODS 3 as they neared the Void's Warden. The Collective Vessel's docking doors had already begun to slide open and the shuttle's driver could already see the men and women scurrying about on the other side of the airlock, preparing for the three shuttles to dock.