“Some pirates achieved immortality by great deeds of cruelty or derring-do. Some achieved immortality by amassing great wealth. But the captain had long ago decided that he would, on the whole, prefer to achieve immortality by not dying.”
― Terry Pratchett,
The space between Dark and Light, floating, the stars whizzing past (or were they galaxies? souls?) falling, falling, falling toward the ground, toward the tower, the tower in the field of dead, the dead all around-
“Move!” I was shoved several steps back by Farstride as physical reality slapped back into place around me. The Light of a Void shield charged my circuits. My chronometer showed 46 seconds had passed since the Vandal had killed me. The comms were filled with chatter and call-outs and I tried to sort through the mess as it went on.
“3 Phalanxes on the left, they’re covering the snipers.””Clean up the little ones, we need to focus fire on the Colossus.” “Rockets up!”
“Morc, we need to move from here!” Farstride’s shield was positioned near the entrance to the outer deck; a trio of Cabal Phalanxes were pressing forward, almost to our position, shields up, and I could see Psions and…
“Are they protecting the Vandals?” I demanded. The smaller Fallen were hiding behind the huge Cabal – until a pair of rockets roared through the thin air into the advancing Cabal. The center Phalanx collapsed, exposing the Psions and Vandals behind them, but only a couple were felled by shots before the Phalanxes tightened ranks and continued their inexorable march.
“Worry about it later,” said Magnus. “We’re putting down cover fire, head to Drake’s position.”
We relocated behind one of the solid chitin pillars that divided the Dreadnought decks. “Good afternoon,” said Drake conversationally as we slid up next to him. “The Colossus is advancing and the Psions are forming a screen around him. A handful of Legionaries and Phalanxes are pressing from the corridor, and the Vandals are spreading out to sniper positions.”
I snapped a couple of shots at the aforementioned Psions and ducked under cover again. “OK. He took some damage when we brought his shield down. Can we do it again?”
“His modulator appears to be working still, so yes. We just need someone brave enough to put themselves in the line of fire.”
“He has a Void shield again…” noted Farstride.
I looked at Drake. He shrugged. “Give me a moment.”
“Clean up the support and snipers.” Everyone turned fire on the Psions ducking around the Colossus in response to Farstride’s order. “You’re clear, Drake. Solar weapons!”
Drake ran out into the clearing while the rest of us opened fire. A sniper round smacked into him as he ran, but he stumbled only a moment before launching a Void bomb at the Colossus. The shield shattered and moments later the Cabal Colossus was vaporized in a hail of Solar fire.
We all cheered. The surviving Fallen scattered and ran for the Ketch. The Cabal stood their ground, but without the support of the Colossus they were cut down in seconds.
We gathered on the Dreadnought deck. “Sound off,” said Farstride. Once everyone was accounted for we headed for the Ketch.
“Looks like the Cabal were on board for the long haul.” The deck of the large cargo hold we had entered was meticulously organized. Fallen ships had (from a human perspective) an asymmetrical order, but the Cabal had fought against it, reshaping the interior by stacking their gear and weapon racks in such a way as to make everything cubical and easily defensible.
“How did they live in such an alien environment?” asked Drake.
The Ghosts were busy scanning different portions of the hold, and one spoke up. “Looks like the vents were redesigned to minimize contamination and remove Ether flow. The alterations are recent.”
“So the pirates hired mercs?” suggested Magnus.
“More likely they recruited deserters in the wake of the King’s arrival,” said Telrik.
“Clever,” said Farstride. “They would be able to make use of the crashed Cabal vessel and equipment in a way no one else could, and they got better shock troops as a result.”
We spread out through the hold, looking for any gear or clues as to the Ketch’s setup. Only Heisenberg-3 was quiet. He strode to the far end of the hold and was examining the bulkhead door that blocked us from the rest of the ship. I followed the fellow Exo and watched him as he studied it.
“I can force my way through,” he said after a moment.
I called to the others and we crowded around. Heisenberg placed his right foot back and opened his fist: a hammer made of golden Solar light filled it, and the heat washed over our fire-team.
Heisenberg-3 raised the hammer over his shoulder, twirled it in his fingers as if winding it up, and then hurled it at the bulkhead. The bulkhead door rang like a huge bell, a deep boom that vibrated everything in the hold. Another hammer, another throw, and the door began to crack. Then he hurled a third hammer and the door caved inward, crumpled and torn off both its upper and lower rails.
“Knock, knock,” said the Titan. Then he walked through the door into the Ketch beyond. I heard someone whistle softly and we followed him deeper into the ship.